Arthritis and bursitis are both conditions that can lead to chronic joint pain. Though the terms sound similar, these disorders are very different. Understanding how arthritis and bursitis differ can help you more effectively decipher joint symptoms, including pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Read on to learn more about the difference between arthritis and bursitis.
What’s the Difference Between Arthritis and Bursitis?
The primary difference between arthritis and bursitis is that they impact different anatomical structures. Arthritis affects the cartilage within a joint, while bursitis affects the bursae that cushion a joint.
Arthritis involves the wearing away of cartilage, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness of one or more joints. Over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions exist, with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis being the most common. Osteoarthritis, the most prevalent form of arthritis, typically results from wear and tear on the joints over time.
Unlike bursitis, arthritis tends to:
- Worsen progressively over time
- Cause of irreversible joint damage
- Cause the worst pain in the morning
- Require ongoing medical care
Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs positioned in between the bones and soft tissues around a joint. They help absorb impact to prevent joint damage. When bursae become inflamed, it’s called bursitis. This condition tends to cause pain, swelling, and tenderness around a joint, which can easily be mistaken for arthritis symptoms.
However, unlike arthritis, bursitis typically:
- Heals within a few weeks
- Causes only temporary inflammation
- Causes the worst pain at night
- Improves with at-home care
Although bursitis usually resolves with a few weeks of at-home care, this joint injury can become chronic. Chronic bursitis involves repeated flare-ups of inflammation and pain and often requires professional medical care.