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What is a Bursectomy?

By Amanda Barnhart
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon995913 — On Jun 09, 2016

I fell and injured my knee (soft tissue damage), it filled with fluid and I had to have it drained every other month for a year. The doc decided to do surgery which I thought would fix the problem. He cleaned out the bursa and I am now worse. The fluid is back and now I am scheduled for a drain. I hope this works! I may be changing doctors.

By anon989680 — On Mar 17, 2015

I had a shoulder bursectomy ten days ago. I was told it looked like cobwebs in there. The swelling is finally going down and I start PT this week, which is making me pretty nervous. I was glad to find this article and am hoping to get rid of the constant nagging pain I've had for years. I'm just glad it was a condition that could be treated.

By anon939037 — On Mar 11, 2014

Where can I find a Surgeon that does IT band release and bursectomy procedures in the Seattle area? Thank you in advance for your assistance.

By anon292408 — On Sep 19, 2012

I had a hip bursectomy and band release almost a month ago. I'm doing physical therapy twice a week and still feel pain. The first few days after the surgery were the hardest.

I met with my doctor and he told me it takes a couple of months to actually be pain free since it is your legs, one of the most important things you use. I'm going back in two weeks to do my left one now.

I'm 24 years old and have been struggling with this problem for the last four years. It's hard to find any info on this so it's nice to see I'm not alone. Hope you all feel better! I know how frustrating this is.

By anon286436 — On Aug 21, 2012

I had my hip bursa removed four weeks ago (open hip incision). At first I felt a huge relief, but the more I started to walk (hobble) around, the more the pain returned with a vengeance. I can walk very short distance and then be physically down for three days to recover just to start this pattern all over again. I have intense burning and throbbing and am taking more pain medication now than before the surgery!

I'm wondering if it's pain from the excision or from my tendinitis. I begin PT in a few days so hoping that will strengthen me. Anyone know how long the recovery process takes? I've had hip issues for five years due to a car accident. I am beginning to feel like my anatomy may just be too out of whack to return to normal function.

By anon283497 — On Aug 04, 2012

I had a laparoscopic right hip bursectomy and iliotibial band release two weeks ago. The first several days after the surgery were quite painful and my thigh was black and blue from my hip to my knee. I am now walking with a cane and doing PT twice a week. Hopefully this will take care of all the pain I was having and I certainly hope the surgery was worth it.

I still have a lot of redness and warmth in the area and hope this is normal. Good luck to all with their hip problems. I had been getting injections over the past twenty years.

By anon279472 — On Jul 12, 2012

I had both of my patellas broken cleanly in half in a motorcycle accident. During the surgery, it looks as though they did a partial bursectomy. I am four months down the road from the accident and still not back to normal. I am having lots of pain. I do have full range of motion in both knees now, though. I am sure that the length of my recovery was due more to the broken bones than the bursa. The doctor said I will always have some degree of pain. Bummer.

By Mykol — On Aug 11, 2011

Bursitis can be a painful and annoying problem. I had to take pain medication every day and go through months of physical therapy on my knee.

What I found most frustrating in addition to the nagging discomfort was how it limited me in what I loved to do. I love to participate in all kinds of outdoor activities and this was making it hard for me.

I decided to have a bursectomy of my knee so I could get back to a normal lifestyle. I planned the surgery during the winter, so when the weather was warmer, I could enjoy being outside.

The recovery time seems to be worse than the actual surgery. I didn't think it would take quite as long as it did to get back to normal. I tried to be a good patient and do all my exercises so I would not have any more problems with the bursitis.

By myharley — On Aug 10, 2011

I had arthroscopic bursectomy shoulder surgery a couple of years ago. My right shoulder hurt me for a long time before I decided to find out what was wrong.

I just thought the pain was arthritis from aging as I couldn't think of anything else that I had done to cause the pain. When it didn't get any better and anti inflammatory medicine no longer helped with the pain, I finally had it checked out.

Little did I realize I would have to go through surgery to take care of the problem, but by that time I was ready to have it taken care of.

It is so much better to have full range of motion in my shoulder without the pain and without limitations.

By sunshined — On Aug 09, 2011

When I mentioned to someone that I had a knee bursectomy they I no idea what I was talking about. It is not something that you hear about often, but if you have bursitis, you know how painful it can be.

I put up with this for a long time before I decided to go ahead and have the surgery. One of the biggest reasons I waited so long was because of the lengthy recovery time.

I was laid up for longer than I wanted to be, but knew that it would be several weeks before I could get back to my daily activities. You run out of things to do after awhile, and I was glad to get back on my feet and get to work.

The surgery was worth it though because I no longer have to live with the constant pain every day.

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