September 11, 2020

What is bursitis of the shoulder?

Shoulder | Sports Injury


Shoulder bursitis occurs when the tiny, fluid-filled sacs called bursa that reduce friction between the tissues in your shoulders become inflamed. These bursae reduce friction anywhere your ligaments, tendons, skin or bones might rub against each other. There are over 150 bursae in your body, and the most are found in your elbows, shoulders and knees, where the most friction is found.

Shoulder Anatomy

The bursae are small fluid-filled sacs located between your bones and the other soft tissues in your body to prevent friction. If the bursa in your shoulder joint becomes inflamed, it can lead to shoulder bursitis.

The subacromial bursa is at the tip of the shoulder and is the most common area for shoulder bursitis to occur.


What is the cause of bursitis shoulder pain?

The most common causes of shoulder bursitis are overuse or injury. This is a common sports injury, especially in athletes whose main job is throwing a ball or swinging their arm. Too much movement puts stress on the bursa, causing inflammation. 

Another cause of shoulder bursitis can be caused by another condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis breaks down the cartilage in between your bones, causing them to rub together and this could put potential stress on the bursa to compensate for the lack of cartilage. 

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What are shoulder bursitis symptoms?

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis begin with pain and swelling and can become more painful over time.

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis include:

  • Pain around the outside of the shoulder
  • Swelling and redness around the shoulder
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Trouble lifting your arm
  • Pain worsening at night

If your pain is accompanied by a fever, see a doctor because it could mean your bursa is infected.

What kind of doctor treats shoulder bursitis?

If you suspect you have a shoulder injury, a sports medicine physician is trained to treat conditions of the shoulder. To determine whether you have shoulder bursitis, your shoulder doctor will ask you for a complete medical history and to describe your symptoms. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and may order an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and determine if there are any other problems.

How to treat shoulder bursitis

To relieve pain and reduce inflammation with conservative shoulder bursitis treatment, your shoulder doctor may recommend rest, applying ice, compressing your shoulder and elevating (R.I.C.E) the injury. There are several other treatment options if these don’t give long term relief to your shoulder bursitis.

Non-operative treatment options include:

  • Over the counter pain medication
  • Steroid injections
  • Shoulder bursitis exercises in physical therapy

If after 6 to 12 months of non-surgical treatments have failed, shoulder bursitis surgery may be required to treat your condition. Your orthopedic surgeon will perform an arthroscopy which is a minimally invasive technique used to drain the inflamed bursa.

How to prevent shoulder bursitis

Preventing shoulder bursitis is difficult. However there are some steps you can take to lower your risk of bursitis.

How to lower your risk of bursitis:

  • Use good posture
  • Stay at a healthy body weight
  • Ease into a new sport
  • Warm-up and cool down before playing a sport
  • Vary your athletic movements to prevent overuse
  • Cushion your joints with elbow and knee pads

Learn more about OrthoIndy shoulder treatment

Schedule an appointment 

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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