Bursitis and tendonitis are common and relatively similar conditions, both of which concern the inflammation of the soft tissue that’s involved in movement.

These types of conditions are very common in shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. They are conditions that are critical to identify and treat early. If left untreated, they can lead to larger issues down the line.

Even though many people confuse tendonitis vs bursitis and even use the terms interchangeably, they are, in fact, quite different. So what is the difference between bursitis and tendonitis, exactly?

Let’s explore the differences as well as the similarities for these two conditions and their respective treatment options.

Similarities Between Tendonitis and Bursitis

There’s a reason why the concept of tendonitis vs bursitis causes confusion – these two conditions are indeed quite similar and often present themselves with almost identical symptoms.

Just like bursitis, tendonitis causes inflammation in certain parts of the body such as the shoulders, the elbows, or the wrists. At first glance, you may not be able to tell them apart.

In fact, sometimes both conditions can affect one another and even occur simultaneously. This is why medical professionals will often refer to bursitis or tendonitis as the same condition and call it, for instance, rotator cuff tendonitis or shoulder bursitis interchangeably.

The underlying issue that’s causing bursitis and tendonitis may also often be the same, which further connects the two related, yet separate issues in the eyes of many people.

For instance, just like tendonitis, bursitis can be caused by an acute injury or a strenuous repetitive motion, such as running.

However, in the next section, we’ll explore the fact that there are significant differences between the two conditions. These differences can affect everything from diagnosis to treatment.

How They Differ

When exploring the differences between bursitis and tendonitis, it’s essential to first get to the bottom of exactly what each of the terms means.

Tendinitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the tendons, which are the tissues that connect muscles to bones. Tendons help ensure smooth movements between muscles and bones and maintain stability in the shoulder, the knees, the elbows, and other parts of the body.

Tendons can greatly vary in size, depending on their role and the part of the body in which they are in, but the primary function is always the same.

When inflammation occurs, it can cause sharp and stabbing pain and is often the result of muscle atrophy, asymmetry, swelling, joint effusions, or other reasons.

Meanwhile, bursitis is a condition that affects the bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that prevents friction between bones, muscles, and tendons in various parts of the body.

The biggest bursa sacks are located in the shoulders, elbows, and knees, and can get inflamed for a range of reasons, including repetitive motion or injury, which is similar to the causes for tendinitis as well.

The biggest difference is the fact that bursitis can be caused by other things as well, such as an infection, arthritis, or even gout.

What’s more, bursae aren’t present in all of the same areas where there is a tendon. They only form in places where bones participate in movements, such as shoulders or hips.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating bursitis or tendinitis, the focus will usually be on trying to identify the root cause of the problem and addressing it while also managing the symptoms.

At first, your doctor is likely to recommend that you refrain from the activities that caused the problem in the first place, which can often be enough to alleviate the symptoms.

Sometimes, even a simple posture or position change during the activity can make a huge difference and help prevent the problem in the future. Adding a more effective warm-up routine could also be helpful, especially for high-intensity sports such as basketball, football, or tennis.

During rest periods, it may be advisable to use ice packs on the affected areas to reduce inflammation and help both the tendon and the bursa to return to normal.

Sometimes, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms and reduce inflammation. If the symptoms persist, a cortisone shot may be required, although it isn’t a viable long-term solution.

Finally, with the help of physical therapy, it is possible to strengthen the surrounding muscle areas and reduce the strain on the tendons and ligaments, helping prevent swelling in the future.

Quick Facts

Here are a few quick facts about these two conditions:

Bursitis Facts

  • There are over 150 bursae located throughout the body of a human.
  • The most important bursae are located in the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders.
  • The fluid inside of a bursa sac is called synovial fluid.
  • Overweight individuals are at a higher risk for bursitis.

Tendonitis Facts

  • If left untreated, tendonitis can lead to a rupture of the tendon. This is a serious medical problem with treatment options including surgery or casting.
  • Frozen shoulder is considered a form of tendonitis.
  • Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are also forms of tendonitis.
  • Tendons are not restricted to attaching muscles to bone. They attach to other parts of the body as well, including the eyeball.
  • The structure of tendons consists of organized collagen fibers.

ShoulderMD

Whether you have tendonitis or bursitis, it’s very important to determine the cause and find the most effective treatment option. Otherwise, the conditions can not only cause discomfort but can also result in more severe issues. There are critical health problems that should be addressed as soon as possible. Even if you only have a suspicion that something is wrong, it is best to consult a doctor.

If you want help addressing your tendonitis or bursitis issues in a shoulder or elbow, contact ShoulderMD today by calling 206-860-5578. You can also use our online contact form. Dr. Shwartz is a Seattle orthopedic surgeon with the expertise needed to alleviate your chronic symptoms. We look forward to helping you find the best way to move forward with your particular condition!