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A bursectomy is an orthopedic surgical procedure to remove an inflamed bursa, one of the fluid-filled cushions between joints. When a bursa becomes swollen and irritated, a condition called bursitis, it leads to pain and restricted movement of the affected joint. While most patients improve with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy, those who continue to have problems or suffer from severe inflammation often undergo surgery to drain the affected bursa.
Bursectomies are most commonly performed on joints that move repetitively, including the knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows. Less common sites include the heel and big toe. The operation is usually a minimally invasive procedure, and most patients do not go under general anesthesia during the surgery, though they often receive a topical anesthetic to numb the area. The surgeon uses an extremely thin, long needle to pierce the skin and puncture the swollen bursa. Once the needle is inside, the surgeon can drain the excess fluid.
Patients who suffer from trochanteric bursitis, a chronic type of the condition that affects the hip joint, usually require an arthroscopic bursectomy since it is generally too difficult for a surgeon to reach the hip bursa with a needle. During the procedure, a surgeon makes an incision in the hip and places a small camera inside to help him drain the bursa with special surgical tools. The incision is closed after the fluid is completely drained.
In some cases, an infection is responsible for an inflamed bursa, so the fluid drained is often sent to a laboratory for testing following the procedure. Laboratory tests are conducted to determine if an infection is present and, if so, what type of bacteria or virus is responsible. If an infection is identified, a medical professional may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications to prevent the condition from reoccurring.
Recovery from a bursectomy may take several weeks so the affected joint can rest. Bursae that cushion main joints of the skeletal system can easily become irritated with repetitive movements. Allowing the affected joint to move as little as possible for several weeks after surgery minimizes the risk that the bursa will be further damaged during the healing process. Patients may also receive prescription anti-inflammatory medications to take during recovery. After the joint has healed, most patients regain normal function, though therapy may be necessary to regain strength and prevent further injury.