Shoulder bursitis is the most common type of bursitis. It occurs when excess fluid builds up in a bursa, the cushioning pad between bones and tissue in joints. Many people with shoulder bursitis also have shoulder tendinitis. The conditions cause pain and can affect arm mobility. Rest, shoulder braces and steroid injections can help.
Shoulder bursitis is the result of inflammation in the bursa. The bursae (bur-SEE) are potential fluid-filled sacs that are part of the skeletal system. They cushion the space between bones and connective tissue, allowing tendons, muscle and bone to move together.
In the shoulder, the subacromial bursae cushion the area between the rotator cuff tendons and the acromion (the highest point of the shoulder blade or scapula). Bursae allow the tendons and bones to glide without friction when you move and lift your arms.
Injuries or overuse can cause fluid to collect in bursae, causing bursitis. Painful swelling may come on gradually or suddenly. Healthcare providers may use the medical term subacromial bursitis or rotator cuff tendinitis to refer to bursitis that affects the shoulder.
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The different types of shoulder bursitis include:
Bursitis most commonly affects the shoulder, but it can develop in any joint. Shoulder bursitis is often the result of overuse or repetitive shoulder movements.
Overhead activities increase friction between bones and tissues. This ongoing friction can inflame and irritate bursae. When fluid builds up in the bursa sacs, you have bursitis.
Anyone can get shoulder bursitis. Certain professionals and athletes who do a lot of repetitive shoulder movements are more prone to this problem. These include painters, carpenters and builders, and people who play football, softball or lacrosse.
You may be more prone to shoulder bursitis if you have:
Shoulder pain from bursitis can come on suddenly or gradually. You may experience a dull ache, sharp pain or mild tenderness.
Other signs of shoulder bursitis include:
Most people who get shoulder bursitis also have shoulder tendinitis (damage to rotator cuff tendons). Both conditions cause shoulder pain, inflammation and stiffness.
These conditions can also affect shoulder mobility and cause shoulder pain:
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam to assess shoulder pain and range of motion. You may also get these diagnostic tests:
You can use certain methods to relieve bursitis symptoms. Here’s how to treat shoulder bursitis at home:
Treatments for shoulder bursitis focus on reducing inflammation and minimizing symptoms. Most people get symptom relief with these nonsurgical treatments:
If symptoms get worse or don’t improve with nonsurgical treatments, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. This surgery may take place arthroscopically using small incisions and a tiny camera (arthroscope).
Your provider may remove:
These steps may reduce your risk of shoulder bursitis:
Chronic shoulder bursitis and repeated flare-ups can damage the bursae. Over time, this may affect shoulder mobility.
Bacteria that cause infectious (septic) shoulder bursitis can spread to organs and other parts of the body. In severe cases, sepsis can be life-threatening.
Most people with shoulder bursitis get symptom relief without surgery. But chronic shoulder bursitis often comes back. It’s important to give your body time to rest and heal. Some people who have severe shoulder pain need surgery.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Shoulder bursitis is a painful inflammatory condition. It can limit the range of motion in your shoulder and arm. Most people get symptom relief through nonsurgical therapies. Rest, wearing a brace and performing physical therapy exercises can be useful. Your healthcare provider can help you manage symptoms and prevent future episodes of bursitis.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/07/2021.
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