Shoulder Bursitis What is it how is it treated?

Shoulder Bursitis – What is it and how is it treated?

Shoulder bursitis can be a painful and debilitating condition – affecting your work, exercise routine, and even daily activities like opening doors or getting dressed.

If you’re experiencing pain within your shoulder or you’re really feeling the stress after a long day’s work, chances are you could have or be developing shoulder bursitis. But what exactly is this condition, how does it develop, and how is it treated?

Here’s everything you need to know about shoulder bursitis and how to treat it.

What is Shoulder Bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is the result of an inflamed bursa – a liquid-filled sac that cushions the inner joints of the shoulder. This joint is incredibly important for the functioning of the shoulder joint and allows the smooth and agile upper body mobility we need to complete a multitude of daily activities.

How does Shoulder Bursitis Develop?

Shoulder bursitis can develop for several different reasons. Here are some common causes:

  • Shoulder injury. Trauma to the shoulder can easily result in your bursae becoming inflamed. Sports injuries, such as high-speed collisions, falls and other shocks can easily result in the bursae becoming overwhelmed.
  • Prolonged overhead activities like tennis, swimming, or painting high ceilings can also be blamed.
  • Bulking up for summer, or overdoing it in the gym, can harm the bursae. After all, everything has its limit.
  • Poor posture can also have a slower yet equally devastating impact on shoulder bursae. Long periods hunched over screens can result in less space between the acromion and glenohumeral joint, essentially squeezing and pinching the soft tissue.
  • Age can also increase the chances of developing shoulder bursitis. Although not a direct cause, many of the problems older generations experience, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can contribute or exacerbate issues with the shoulder bursae.

Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis

Compared to other joint issues, shoulder bursitis has some distinct and noticeable features:

  • Pain radiating from the side or top of the shoulder
  • Pain and discomfort when lifting your hands above your head (like when getting dressed)
  • Increased pain and pressure when your arms are lifted to the side
  • Difficulty when you try and “circle” your arm or try to push things away from you

Who is more at Risk of Shoulder Bursitis?

Anyone can get shoulder bursitis. However, some groups are more at risk, due to some factors including age, lifestyle, and occupation. Those more at risk include:

  • Athletes – especially swimmers, tennis players, and those who play sports involving long periods of arms held over the head.
  • Gym junkies – repetitive overhead arm activities like barbell sets can increase the risk of shoulder bursitis.
  • Aged populations – due to longer exposure to risks, including poor posture and other lifestyle factors, can increase the risk of bursitis.
  • Musicians can also experience strain on the shoulder due to holding an instrument up for long periods during performance and rehearsals.
  • Gardeners and carpenters – those partaking in pruning, painting and other activities including strenuous and repetitive work above the head can all be at a higher risk of straining the shoulder bursae.

How to Treat Shoulder Bursitis

Treatments for shoulder bursitis can vary from immediate to long-term actions that aim to prevent swelling, reduce pain and ultimately strengthen the shoulder.

Immediate Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

Start by resting your shoulder. Nothing beats time off to recover. If the pain is particularly bad and stops you from carrying out your daily activities or impacts your sleeping habits – consider taking some over-the-counter pain medicine. While resting, you may want to apply ice to the affected area to reduce swelling.

Medium and Long Term Treatment Solutions

If pain persists, and if you’re not feeling the effect of any initial efforts to reduce swelling and other symptoms – it’s important you get in touch with a shoulder physio to get to the root of the issue.

They will be able to effectively diagnose, and assist with implementing a treatment plan to get you back in shape.

A physiotherapist will also be able to assist with other treatments such as:

  • Wearing a shoulder brace
  • Stretching and exercise routines
  • Implementing coping mechanisms

What NOT to do:

Shoulder bursitis is a very specific condition that can flare up due to injury or prolonged periods of activity and, as such, there are certain things you’ll want to avoid. Make sure you’re not doing any of the following:

  • Applying heat to the affected area. This is a big no-no. Heat around the area of injury can actually increase inflammation and cause swelling to also increase, putting pressure on your tissue and slowing down the healing process.
  • Engage in strenuous or repetitive activities – it can be tempting to get straight back into your work or training routine as soon as symptoms subside, but this can have potentially longer negative effects on your shoulder joints, which may require longer to fully heal. It’s important to get a professional opinion from a physiotherapist to know when the time is right to start exercising or working your shoulder again.
  • Sleep on the affected shoulder – this can be a critical mistake that can prolong the inflammation and worsen the symptoms.
  • Swimming and other movements involving arms moving over the head.

Get in Touch with a Shoulder Physio Today

Identifying and treating shoulder bursitis in good time is essential for a long-term and healthy recovery. Don’t allow it to worsen – reach out to your local shoulder physio today and book an appointment as soon as possible.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.