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Shoulder Bursitis Explained


Are you feeling an intense pain in your shoulder that gets worse when you move? You might be suffering from shoulder bursitis. 

Shoulder bursitis (also known as impingement syndrome, or subacromial bursitis) occurs when the bursa on your shoulder becomes irritated or inflamed. It’s often characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and loss of movement in your shoulder.

Fortunately, shoulder bursitis is treatable and—with rest and gentle exercise—can completely heal in just a few weeks. If you suspect that you’re suffering from this condition, here’s everything you need to know:

What Is Shoulder Bursitis?

Bursa is a fluid-filled sac found between tissues. It serves as a cushion that reduces the friction between the bones, skin, muscle, and tendons so joints can move smoothly and painlessly.

When the bursa gets irritated, inflamed, or swollen, it leads to a condition referred to as bursitis. When the bursa swells, there is less space for movement. Every time the tendons and the bursa move, they’re pinched or “impinged” between the bones.

What Are the Common Causes of Shoulder Bursitis?

In most cases, shoulder bursitis is caused by too much stress on the bursa due to overuse, injury, or medical conditions like gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

There are three types of shoulder bursitis, depending on the cause of the irritation:

  • Chronic Bursitis: This is the most common type, and it develops due to repeated stress on the shoulder. It sometimes occurs in people with preexisting medical conditions—such as gout, diabetes, uremia, or arthritis—that increase their risk factor for bursitis.
  • Infected Bursitis: This is a serious condition that develops when the bursa gets infected with bacteria. This is usually diagnosed if the common symptoms of bursitis are accompanied by a fever. Left untreated, the infection can spread and cause more serious issues.
  • Traumatic Bursitis: This is the least common type of shoulder bursitis. It occurs when the joint bends too much or when the extremity repeatedly rubs against a hard surface. Some of the activities that can cause traumatic bursitis are knitting, weight training, tennis, or baseball. Athletes, musicians, painters, and other people with manual professions are more prone to developing this type of shoulder bursitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis?

The symptoms of bursitis can vary depending on your specific condition or injury. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Pain on the top or the outside of your shoulder
  • Discomfort when you’re lying on your shoulder
  • Swelling and redness around the affected area
  • Pain when you’re trying to raise or circle your arm, push or open a door, or lift an object
  • Reduced range of movement in your shoulder joint

How Do You Treat Shoulder Bursitis?

Because bursitis is often caused by stress on your shoulders, giving them enough time to rest may help significantly reduce the symptoms. Check out some of the steps that you can follow to treat shoulder bursitis at-home: 

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil or Tylenol are helpful in relieving the pain and reducing inflammation.
  • Apply an ice pack or a cold compress for only 10 to 15 minutes at 4 to 6 hour intervals. Make sure that there’s a protective covering between your skin and the ice. 
  • Avoid activities that may worsen your symptoms. You can also wear a shoulder brace to keep yourself from doing too much. Make sure to consult your physician or physical therapist if you’re not sure about how it should be worn.
  • Do some gentle stretching to prevent the joint from getting stiff, but avoid movements that cause extreme discomfort or pain.

If the symptoms persist or even worsen after a few days of rest, consult a doctor. They can prescribe the right treatment to reduce any swelling or discomfort you may be feeling. 

If the bursitis is severe and isn’t responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend getting surgery as a final option. The procedure entails removing the damaged bone, tissue, or inflamed bursa.

Worried About Shoulder Bursitis? 

Shoulder bursitis can be incredibly painful. It can cause you pain and discomfort even while you’re sitting or sleeping. Fortunately, it’s a treatable condition. The key is to get treated early—ideally, right after you notice the first symptoms of stiffness or pain. 

Don’t put off getting help. Contact an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist right away. Our team at Thunder Basin Orthopaedics offers effective shoulder bursitis diagnosis and treatment. 

We aim to address and relieve your pain quickly, so you can get back to your normal activities and avoid unnecessary surgical procedures and lengthy pain management plans. 

If you are ready to take the first steps towards pain-free joints, please request an appointment with us today