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Home / Training / Injuries / Shoulder bursitis: causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Shoulder bursitis: What it is and how to treat and prevent it

Rehab physio Juliet Slade explains all you need to know about shoulder bursitis, including causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

The anatomy of the shoulder joint. Credit: National Institute Of Arthritis And Musculoskeletal And Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

What is shoulder bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is inflammation of the bursa within the shoulder. When the bursa is over compressed it gets irritated and becomes inflamed. It can be encompassed within the term ‘impingement’ when diagnosing a shoulder condition.

What is a bursa?

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion in the joint to help reduce friction – in this instance, between the shoulder structures.

What are the symptoms of shoulder bursitis?

Bursitis is painful. It tends to feel like a sharp ‘pinch’ when the bursa is compressed during movement. Pain is most commonly felt when the arm is lifted upwards or outwards – for example, when washing your hair or dressing your top half – as the space within the shoulder narrows. The shoulder can also be sore with palpation or to lie on, but feels comfortable when the arm is at rest by your side.

What causes shoulder bursitis

Significant traumas, such as those that occur through falls, can cause bursitis. Without a large trauma it is likely to be triggered by an overuse injury associated with activities involving elevating the arm repeatedly – for example, swimming front crawl. Essentially, the shoulder doesn’t have enough space in it due to weakness and/or poor posture, which causes bursa irritation.

How do you treat shoulder bursitis?

The shoulder needs to be strong enough to cope with the demands placed on it. A physio can design a specific exercise programme to address the muscle insufficiencies. Load can be upped, as far as you can tolerate, during the strengthening process.

Posture is extremely important to gain as much space within the shoulder as possible, thereby offloading the unhappy bursa. Bursitis is seen an awful lot of times in desk-based slouchers!

If physio is unsuccessful a surgeon may consider injecting the joint with a steroid to reduce the inflammation, or they may offer decompression surgery.

How can I prevent shoulder bursitis?

Regular breaks from sitting, along with ensuring appropriate desk setup, will help avoid rounded postures. The shoulder generally should be kept well conditioned specific to your sport/activity. For example, swimmers should include a lot of rotation exercises in their work outs.

Juliet Slade is a physiotherapist at Six Physio

If you have any concerns at all, like with any health issue, seek medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, whether that’s a doctor or physiotherapist.

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