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What You Should Know about Bursitis of the Shoulder

Bursitis of the shoulder (subacromial bursitis) is a painful condition caused by the swelling of the fluid-filled subacromial bursa, a sac of soft tissue that cushions the joint in your shoulder where your acromion and rotator cuff meet. In other words, the soft cushion of fluid in your shoulder can swell up. While you have bursae in your hips and other joints, the ones in the shoulder are more likely to swell up. When this happens, the bursae can apply pressure onto surrounding tissue and cause pain. Shoulder bursitis can limit your range of motion and even make your shoulders feel stiff.

An orthopedist, a physician who specializes in treating conditions that affect the bones, muscles, joints, and other connective tissue in the body, can evaluate you if you feel that you have shoulder bursitis. Orthopedic surgeons trained in sports medicine, and specialists in upper extremity, hand and wrist can address conditions affecting your shoulders as well.

Here are some important details about shoulder bursitis, including the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available to you.

Shoulder Pain

Causes of Shoulder Bursitis

The most recognized cause of shoulder bursitis is repetitive arm motion, especially pulling and rotating. Certain movements put pressure on the bursae in your shoulder. Long periods of repetitive pressure on the shoulder can cause the bursa sacs to swell up.

Bursitis is more common as you age, but your lifestyle can increase your chances of developing swollen bursae. Painters, carpenters, athletes, and other people who frequently work with their arms are very likely to develop shoulder bursitis. However, an injury to your shoulder also may result in swollen bursae. People who currently suffer from arthritis or gout may develop shoulder bursitis as a secondary condition, or a problem as a result of a more major health issue.


Symptoms of shoulder bursitis include shoulder pain, especially pain when trying to move or engage your shoulder. If your shoulders feel sore for long periods of time, or even stiff and limited in range of motion, these can also be signs of shoulder bursitis.

Keep an eye out for shoulder redness, swollen-looking shoulders, or pain and sensitivity when you touch your shoulder. Very sharp pains, bruising, and a fever are signs of shoulder bursitis that is already advanced or serious.


Visit an orthopedist to discuss your symptoms. The physician will inspect your shoulder, ask you to try moving it for them, and may then recommend testing. Testing can include laboratory analyses of fluid from the bursae. They may also recommend an X-ray, which will take an internal look at your shoulder tissue.

Treatment of Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis symptoms can disappear on their own, however, your physician may also prescribe a pain medication. Other recommendations may include resting the shoulder,  avoiding strenuous activities, and applying ice as needed to reduce swelling.

Shoulder Injection

Your orthopedist may recommend certain light exercises that can help reduce the swelling in your shoulder bursae. Additional treatment options might include administering a corticosteroid injection, which will rapidly work to reduce pain and swelling. On rare occasions, surgical drainage of the bursae may be necessary.

Where to Find Help

If you're experiencing symptoms of shoulder bursitis, contact an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist near you to learn about appropriate treatment options that may be right for you. Start with OrthoAtlanta, the leading resource for shoulder surgery specialists in Atlanta. Visit orthoatlanta.com for more information or to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.

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