If you feel pain or swelling in your joints, there’s a chance you may have arthritis, tendonitis, or bursitis. Knowing which you have helps you and your doctor create the best treatment plan for your symptoms.

Joint pain refers to discomfort, aches, and soreness in any of the body’s joints. Joints are the parts of your body where your bones meet; they allow the bones of your skeleton to move and include the:

  • shoulders
  • hips
  • elbows
  • knees

Joint pain is a common complaint and typically doesn’t require a hospital visit. Below we’ll describe the different types of joint pain conditions and what you can do to address them.

Bursitis and Tendinitis 101

Bursitis and tendinitis are two specific conditions with shared characteristics. Bursitis and tendinitis are also known as soft tissue rheumatic syndromes (a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and indicate a particular problem). This type of syndrome produces pain, swelling, or inflammation in the tissues and structures around a joint, such as the tendons, ligaments, bursae, and muscles.

Tendons are cord-like structures located where a muscle narrows down to attach to a bone. The tendon is more fibrous and dense than supple and flexible muscle tissue, and it transmits the pull of the muscle to the bone to cause movement. Tendinitis is often very tender to the touch.

Tendinitis or bursitis often involves the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, or ankle. The pain it causes may be quite severe and usually occurs suddenly. Tendinitis often results from an acute injury or repetitive motion (such as hammering a nail, running, or playing tennis). Though the problem can be chronic (long term) in some people, it is most often short term, mainly if treated early.

Bursitis, meanwhile, is inflammation of a bursa, a small sac that acts as a cushion between moving structures (bones, muscles, tendons, or skin). If a muscle or tendon is pulling around a corner of a bone, or over a bone, a healthy bursa protects it from fraying and stress. When a bursa is inflamed, it becomes very painful, even during rest.

While bursae are vital to helping tendons glide over bones, not all tendons have a bursa. Bursa only forms where bony prominences appear, in the shoulder, the outside of the hip, or the kneecap.

Treatment for Tendinitis and Bursitis

Immediate treatment for tendinitis and bursitis should include the RICE method: 

  • Rest to prevent further injury
  • Ice for short-term pain relief
  • Compression for pain reduction and reduced swelling
  • Elevation to control swelling

Other treatment methods include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen), can further help alleviate inflammation and pain.
  • Cortisone injections may be used if the symptoms are persistent. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that provides short-term pain relief but tends to be less effective as a long-term therapy.
  • Physical therapy can strengthen the surrounding muscles, alleviate stress on the affected area, and prevent a recurrence.


Because the structures affected by tendinitis and bursitis are near joints, pain in these areas may be mistaken for arthritis. The difference between arthritis and bursitis and tendinitis is the source of the inflammation. Arthritis is inflammation in the joint itself, whereas bursitis, tendinitis, and other soft tissue rheumatic syndromes involve inflammation in the tissues and structures around a joint.

Arthritis is a group of painful and degenerative conditions marked by inflammation in the joints that causes stiffness, pain, and limited movement. Two common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, worsens with age, and is caused by wear and tear over time. Rheumatoid arthritis, classified as an autoimmune disease, stems from the immune system attacking the joints as if they were foreign tissues. 

There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The disease is characterized by a thinning of the protective joint surface cartilage, which produces bone-on-bone friction. You may have difficulty walking, getting up from a seated position, or moving around first thing in the morning. Walking up steps, bending down, opening jars, or raising your arms above your shoulders may also be challenging. Joints may become stiff and painful to move, joint flexibility reduced, and bone spurs may develop. Usually, the first symptom of osteoarthritis is pain that worsens following exercise or immobility.

Although no cure for arthritis exists, many treatment options are available to impede the progress of the disease and alleviate symptoms. With proper treatment, many people with arthritis can manage their pain, stay active, and lead fulfilling lives.

Symptoms of arthritis may include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Muscle weakness
  • Deformed joints
  • Reduced range of motion and flexibility
  • Cracking and creaking sounds in the joint

People with rheumatoid arthritis may also have systemic symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Eye inflammation
  • Anemia
  • Subcutaneous nodules (bumps under the skin)
  • Pleurisy (inflammation of the lungs)

Treatment Options

Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory medications, are the first line of treatment to relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. In severe cases, steroid injections and more potent pain relievers may be helpful. 

Losing weight and quitting smoking can help you manage arthritis symptoms, as can a diet low in saturated fat and abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. Being overweight can increase the complications of arthritis and add to the pain. Smoking causes stress on connective tissues, which will aggravate arthritis pain.

Exercise and movement also can help with arthritis pain and swelling. Walking, swimming, biking, and yoga, tai chi are beneficial activities that don’t put stress on your joints. In addition, physical therapy can strengthen the surrounding muscles and alleviate pressure on the affected area. 

If the pain in your hip or knee does not get better with non-surgical treatment,or if the joint damage significantly reduces your ability to move, your doctor may recommend arthroscopic or joint replacement surgery. Different surgical procedures can help: the joints can be realigned, the ends of the bones can be fused, or the joint can be replaced entirely. 

To find out if joint pain treatment at Advanced Orthopaedic Centers is right for you, call one of our offices or contact us to schedule an appointment.