Massage Therapy for Bursitis

Bursitis happens when the small bursa (or serous) sac, found inside the joints, becomes inflamed. This fluid-filled sac helps to lubricate the joint. If there is inflammation, the lubricated cushioning does not work properly and movement is painful.

This condition often occurs in larger joints like the shoulder, knee, elbow or hip and is usually caused by repetitive motions.

Bacterial infections, however, can also cause bursa inflammation.

If it is caused by infection, massage is not recommended.

Although bursa inflammation in elbows (epitrochlear or "tennis elbow"), hip sockets (trochanteric), heel bones (retrocalcaneal) or the kneecaps (infrapatellar) are most common, it can also be found in buttocks (ischiogluteal) or the thighs (trochanteric).

Acute bursa inflammation can be caused by a sudden fall or injury and is usually painful. Chronic bursa inflammation will come and go over a long period of time.

It is often caused by an injury, but can also be caused by:

  • Overuse from sports or repetitive work
  • Bad posture, either from desk work or lots of driving
  • As a condition of another disease like arthritis or gout
  • Infection


Symptoms include aching and stiffness in joints, limited range of motion, swelling, redness and heat radiating from the joint. Intense pain is rare, but can be felt if inflammation is great and treatment has been prolonged.


This book by Fiona Rattray, Clinical Massage Therapy: Understanding, Assessing and Treating Over 70 Conditions helps you learn how to massage many common patient syndromes and conditions to help alleviate pain. This is the ultimate book reference for massage therapy benefits for medical conditions and pain syndromes!

Other treatment options often include rest and elevation of the joint area, a splint or sling for support, ice to relieve pain and swelling, and possibly an injection of steroids to reduce inflammation.

A gentle massage promotes healing and can help to ease the joint pain and inflammation. Typically, 5-6 minutes of light to medium pressure, followed by 5-6 minutes of slightly deeper work and friction movements will help.

Massage should not be given directly on the joint, it could cause more irritation and further exacerbate the joint pain.

If none of these treatments work, your doctor may choose to aspirate (remove fluid through a needle) the affected joint.

Other Resources

Read more about shoulder bursa inflammation at

Go back to Massage Education Guide Homepage

Go back to Massage for Pain Syndromes from Bursitis

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