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Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder Bursitis

What is Shoulder Bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is a painful condition that occurs when a bursa in the shoulder becomes swollen and inflamed.

A bursa is a small sac that secretes a lubricating liquid called synovial fluid which reduces friction between tissues, acts as a cushion between the muscles, tendons, and bones, and helps lubricate the joints to move freely.

There are more than 150 bursae in the human body. The shoulder joint has six bursae which is the most in the body. All of them can develop bursitis:

  • Subscapular bursa / scapulothoracic bursa
  • Subdeltoid bursa
  • Subacromial bursa (most common form of shoulder bursitis)
  • Subcoracoid bursa
  • Infraspinatus bursa
  • Subcutaneous acromial bursa

Because the resulting inflammation can also cause swelling, tenderness and pain in the surrounding tendons and tissues, shoulder bursitis often occurs along with rotator cuff tendonitis.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Shoulder Bursitis?

The most common cause of shoulder bursitis is long-term repetitive movements or positions (whether from your job, like painting, or hobby, such as baseball) that put pressure on the shoulder joint.

Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing shoulder bursitis include:

  • Previous surgery or injury to the shoulder
  • Trauma, such as a hard blow to the shoulder
  • Bacterial infection, called septic bursitis
  • Inflammatory autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus, and gout
  • Degeneration of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint
  • Weak shoulder muscles
  • Calcium deposits
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Bone spurs from osteoarthritis
  • Age – anyone can develop bursitis, but it becomes more common with aging
  • Improper posture

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis?

Bursitis causes swelling, tenderness and pain in areas around the shoulder joint, including tendons, ligaments, bursae and muscles. It can make everyday activities, like having a shower and getting dressed, difficult.

Depending on the cause of your shoulder bursitis, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Sharp shooting pain or pain that gets worse when you press on your shoulder or move it, like lifting something overhead
  • Pain that is worse at night, making it difficult to sleep
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Red and warm shoulder with or without a fever and chills (if the cause of your shoulder bursitis is due to infection)

Concerned about symptoms of shoulder bursitis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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How is Shoulder Bursitis Treated?

Treatments for shoulder bursitis can include:

  • Applying ice, resting your shoulder, and avoiding activities
  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications, including:
    • Topical medications such as creams, sprays, gels or patches
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), either prescribed, or over-the-counter, such as Advil, Motrin or Aleve
    • Antibiotics (if your shoulder bursitis is caused by an infection)
  • Draining a swelled bursa of excess fluid with a needle and syringe which can then be tested at a lab to determine if the bursa is infected
  • Corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation (only if the cause is not due to infection)
  • Surgery

Surgical removal of a bursa is very rare. If surgery is necessary after other less invasive treatments have not helped, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation.

Physiotherapy for Shoulder Bursitis

Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that focuses on reducing pain and swelling, regaining strength, increasing joint mobility and function, and preventing recurrence. 

At pt Health, you’ll receive a thorough assessment which addresses the source of your problem.

Depending on your individual needs, physiotherapy for shoulder bursitis can include:

Are you seeking physiotherapy for shoulder bursitis treatment? Book an assessment today.

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Can Shoulder Bursitis Go Away on Its Own?

Depending on the cause, shoulder bursitis can get better on its own within a few weeks with at-home treatments in conjunction with modifying your daily habits, including:

  • Applying heat and cold therapy appropriately
  • Avoiding actions that put stress on your shoulder such as lifting or carrying heavy loads (use a cart or wagon instead) or playing certain sports like baseball, golf or tennis
  • Resting your shoulder between workouts and repetitive tasks (only resume these activities once pain and swelling are under control)
  • Using assistive devices such as a brace

However, repeated flare-ups are common, so if the above measures don’t resolve your symptoms, you may want to consult a physiotherapist for a custom treatment plan to address your unique concerns.

Can You Prevent Shoulder Bursitis?

There are steps you can take to prevent or reduce the chance of developing shoulder bursitis, including:

  • Exercising regularly, including stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi (at least 30 minutes every day)
  • Warming up before exercising or playing sports, and cooling down afterward
  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet (avoiding processed and refined foods and sugar)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight (which reduces joint strain and pain, and increases mobility and energy)
  • Practicing good posture

Book a Physiotherapy Consult for Shoulder Bursitis Today

Concerned about symptoms of shoulder bursitis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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