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What Is Shoulder Bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is inflammation in the shoulder bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion and protect your joints. Your bursae allow your shoulder to move smoothly, without friction or discomfort. However, when your bursae become inflamed, your shoulder will:

  1. hurt,
  2. become stiff, or
  3. have a reduced range of motion.  

Shoulder bursitis can affect anyone, but it’s most common in adults over 30. 

Types of Shoulder Bursitis

There are three primary types of shoulder bursitis: 

  • Chronic bursitis—This is the most common type of shoulder bursitis. Typically, it occurs because of minor injuries or repetitive shoulder movements that irritate the bursa. These can include actions such as throwing a softball or lifting heavy objects overhead.
  • Acute or traumatic bursitis—This type develops suddenly as the result of an accident or injury. 
  • Infected bursitis—This is a rare and most severe type that develops from a bacterial infection, such as a staph infection. If the infection spreads, it can be life-threatening. If you experience symptoms of infected bursitis, such as fever, swelling, or redness that extends to your whole arm, seek medical care right away. 

Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms

Shoulder bursitis causes include: 

  • Inflammatory condition—Any chronic condition that causes inflammation could lead to shoulder bursitis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or diabetes. 
  • Traumatic injuryShoulder injuries, such as a hard fall, could lead to inflammation in your bursae. 
  • Rotator cuff tearYour rotator cuff is the group of tendons and muscles around your shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears are tears in these tendons. A rotator cuff tear may lead to bursae inflammation. 
  • Scapular dyskinesis—This condition causes your shoulder blade to move up and away from the rib cage instead of gliding on top of the rib cage as it should. Scapular dyskinesis is the most common cause of shoulder bursitis in younger patients. 

Shoulder Bursitis Diagnosis

If you have pain or limited range of motion in your shoulder, our orthopedic specialist will use tests to diagnose or rule out shoulder bursitis. Tests may include: 

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Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

We typically treat shoulder bursitis with nonoperative methods as the first line of treatment.

  • Steroid injections—This is often the first treatment for shoulder bursitis. We will inject a steroid medication directly into the bursae to reduce swelling and inflammation. 
  • Physical therapyYour physical therapist or orthopedic specialist may prescribe a set of exercises to increase strength and range of motion safely and stretches for shoulder pain to do at home between appointments. 
  • Medications—We may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.  
  • Immobilization—It may help to keep your shoulder still with a splint or sling. If you have traumatic shoulder bursitis, immobilization may reduce inflammation while the injury heals.
  • Arthroscopic surgerySurgery is not usually necessary for shoulder bursitis. If all other treatment options don’t decrease your shoulder bursitis symptoms, we may consider surgery. 

Shoulder Bursitis Treatment at Home

Often, you can take steps at home to relieve minor pain, inflammation, and swelling in your shoulder. You may: 

  • stop activities that worsen symptoms, 
  • ice the affected area, or 
  • take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Does Heat Make Inflammation Worse?  

Heat will increase inflammation associated with bursitis. Instead, use an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time, two to three times per day.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

At U of U Health, we prioritize creating a high-quality, world-class experience for each patient.  Our specialists consult and collaborate closely on treatment plans so you receive comprehensive care. When you come to U of U Health, you will have access to a network of specialists with combined decades of experience. 

Our orthopedic specialists are active researchers. We train other physicians in advanced techniques, demonstrating that doctors around the region and country value our expertise. We provide all the orthopedic services you need at two of our convenient, centralized locations—University Orthopaedic Center and South Jordan Health Center. Whether you’re coming in for imaging, physical therapy, or a steroid injection, you will receive care in one easily accessible, comfortable setting.  

Make an Appointment with An Orthopedic Specialist

Shoulder bursitis can worsen without treatment. Getting treatment increases your chances of optimal recovery and a shoulder free of pain. You can contact us directly at 801-587-7109, or your primary care provider or another specialist may send a referral to our doctors at University Orthopaedic Services.

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