Key Points about Shoulder Bursitis

  • Shoulder bursitis is caused by irritation and inflammation between the bursa and tendons in the shoulder, typically from a past injury or repetitive overhead activities.
  • The first step in treating shoulder bursitis is reducing the inflammation with anti-inflammatory medications. Your doctor will also advise you to ice and rest your shoulders as well as avoid activities that cause pain.
  • Other treatment options are steroid shot, aspiration of bursa fluid, cortisone shot, or as a last resort, surgery.
Common related conditions
Shoulder Tendonitis Shoulder Impingement Syndrome (Impingement Syndrome) Shoulder Dislocation


Bursitis of the shoulder is an orthopedic condition develops when the bursa (a fluid-filled sac between the top of the shoulder and the top of the arm bone) becomes inflamed and swells. When this occurs, the space between the bursa and tendons will narrow and eventually become so small that mobility will be impaired.

The most common causes of shoulder bursitis are overuse and shoulder injury. If you experienced a recent shoulder injury, your swelling could be causing the irritation and inflammation of the bursa and tendons.

You doctor will be able to diagnose shoulder bursitis during a physical examination.

Shoulder bursitis causes

While previous shoulder injuries and overuse are the most common causes of shoulder bursitis, other causes include:

  • Infection
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Tendonitis

In many cases, the shape of your shoulder or arm bones can cause you to develop shoulder bursitis.

Shoulder bursitis symptoms

The most common symptom of bursitis in the shoulder is pain around the outside or tip of the shoulder that worsens at night.

Other symptoms of shoulder bursitis include:

  • Pain when the affected shoulder is touched or if the arm is raised above the head
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Swelling around the shoulder joint

If you have symptoms of shoulder bursitis accompanied by a fever, call your doctor right away. You may have septic bursitis and need immediate treatment.

Shoulder bursitis complications

Complications can arise if shoulder bursitis is left untreated. Complications may include:

  • Build up of calcium deposits in the shoulder that limits your shoulder mobility
  • Fluid build-up that requires surgical intervention to relieve the pressure.

Shoulder bursitis risk factors

If you are involved in an activity that involves repetitive overhead movements such as lifting weights, playing baseball, playing golf, or have a job that requires repetitive overhead activity, you are at a higher risk of developing shoulder bursitis.

Other risk factors of shoulder bursitis include:

  • Older age
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Diabetes
  • Occupations requiring heavy lifting

Shoulder bursitis prevention

  • Stretch and warm up your shoulder before exercising or other repetitive movements.
  • Gradually increase the strain on your shoulders when working out or exercising.
  • Rest often when doing repetitive tasks.
  • Stop any activity that causes you pain.
  • Practice good posture.

Shoulder bursitis diagnosis

Your doctor will be able to diagnose shoulder bursitis during a physical examination. During the exam, he or she will evaluate the range of motion in your shoulder.

If the diagnosis is not clear, your doctor may also order an X-ray, MRI, ultrasound aspiration, or blood tests to rule out other possible conditions.

Your doctor will also review your medical history to determine when your symptoms began and evaluate potential activities that might have caused your symptoms.

Shoulder bursitis treatment

The goal of treatment for shoulder bursitis is to relieve your symptoms and get you back to your activity as quickly as possible. Your doctor may prescribe you non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and recommend you avoid any activities that cause you pain.

Typically, after a few weeks, your shoulder bursitis will be healed.

Other treatment options for shoulder bursitis include:

  • Cortisone shot
  • Aspiration of the bursa fluid
  • Steroid shot
  • Surgery — during surgery to repair shoulder bursitis, your doctor will remove the portions of the bone or spurs to create more room for the tendons in the rotator cuff.

When should I seek care?

Contact your doctor to make an appointment if you experience any of the following:

  • A lump has formed in your shoulder area
  • You have pain performing daily activities
  • You have symptoms related to shoulder bursitis that are worsening

Next Steps

Your doctor will develop a custom treatment plan for your case. If your case is mild, you may find relief with ice compresses, rest, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Avoid activities that cause pain, especially repeated overhead movements.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms change or worsen.

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