Hip bursitis won't go away

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

Bursitis refers to inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs that protect joints.

The hip, a relatively large joint, has many bursae that surround and cushion it.

Before settling on the diagnosis of bursitis of the hip, it's important to exclude other conditions that can mimic it.

Hip pain has a number of possible causes including bursitis, tendonitis, and arthritis. Referred pain from the low back can also be mistaken for hip pain.

Lumbar radiculopathy, a pinched nerve in the back, can also cause referred pain to the hip and be misinterpreted as being hip bursitis.

There is also a condition called meralgia paresthetica- a pinching of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve- that causes a burning pain on the outside of the hip which can be mistaken for hip bursitis.

The two most common forms of hip bursitis are trochanteric bursitis and iliopsoas bursitis. Trochanteric bursitis is felt laterally (on the outside of the hip) and is aggravated by weight-bearing as well as by pressure. Lying on the side of the painful bursa aggravates the pain.

Iliopsoas bursitis is felt over the groin and is aggravated by flexion (bending) of the hip.

Tendonitis affecting the tendons that insert along the inner and outer parts of the hip can also cause severe pain. These forms of tendonitis may be confused with bursitis.

Finally, arthritis affecting the hip joint generally causes severe groin pain. Pain in the buttock may also occur. Arthritis may masquerade as bursitis and tendonitis pain.

Treatment for hip bursitis will involve the use of anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, exercises, and injections of glucocorticoid. Therefore, in a situation where the bursitis pain is not improving after appropriate therapy, a search for other possible causes of the pain should be started. Make certain that a stress fracture, arthritis, or a labral tear is not present. Diagnostic testing including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be considered.

Trochanteric bursitis of the hip is frequently the result of a tight iliotibial band rubbing over the greater trochanter and bursa of the hip.

Frequently, exercises aimed at improving flexibility, coupled with proper warmup and stretching before exercising, can alleviate the problem.

If the problem is really resistant bursitis, then other treatment modalities that might work include yoga, prolotherapy, transcutaneous nerve stimulation, massage, and acupuncture.

Ultrasound-guided needle tenotomy with plate-rich plasma- a minimally invasive procedure- has been shown to be curative for cases of resistant bursitis.

Bursectomy, a surgical procedure where the bursa is removed should be reserved as a last resort and only if the diagnosis is absolutely certain.

Another issue is mistaken diagnosis. Often, enthesopathy (tendonitis) involving the pyriformis insertion or obturator internus insertion can be mistaken for trochanteric bursitis. It's important to confirm the diagnosis using ultrasound or MRI.

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