A bursa is a small sack of fluid that lubricates where tendons move in joints, of which there are two in the wrist. If a bursa is subjected to repeated trauma or friction then it can become inflamed and swollen, causing wrist pain. Although the pain can be severe, wrist bursitis can often go away with rest, ice and compression, without the need for any major treatment.
Pain in the wrist, especially when the wrist is bent back or weight is put through it. A small lump or swelling may be seen in the top of the wrist which will be tender and warm to touch.
Bursas are found all over the body, in places where soft tissues may rub against each other or the underlying bone. They affect people who tend to put a lot of weight on their hands for example cyclists.
There are two bursas in the wrist; the radial bursa and the ulnar bursa. The radial bursa surrounds the flexor pollicis longus tendon on the thumb and palm sides of the wrist. The ulna bursa surrounds the tendons of the flexor digitorum superficialis and profundes muscles, more centrally in the palm side of the wrist.
Bursitis can be caused by a sudden impact, or more regularly by repeated movements and is a form of repetitive strain injury (RSI). The bursa becomes inflamed and swollen due to repetitive friction.
Rest and apply cold therapy if it is acute or painful. Use a compression bandage to help reduce swelling.
A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. Ultrasound therapy may be used to help reduce pain and inflammation. In more severe cases the bursa can be aspirated where a needle is inserted to suck out the fluid, although it is possible the bursa will return. Bursitis usually dies down after a week or so if it is left to recover.