Understanding Your Condition

What is shoulder bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis, also known as subacromial bursitis, is caused when the bursa in the shoulder joint becomes inflamed. Bursa are small fluid filled sacs that help to reduce friction between the joints. Bursae act as cushions between the joints in order to prevent muscles, tendons, and bones from rubbing against each other. Bursitis in the shoulder is more often found in the subacromial bursa, which is the larger bursa at the tip of the shoulder.

What are the causes and symptoms of shoulder bursitis?

When bursae become inflamed there is less space for the muscles and tendons to move, causing pain and loss of a range of mobility in the shoulder. Overuse of the shoulder or injury to the shoulder can cause bursitis. Repetitive stress on the shoulder from activities such as baseball, knitting, tennis, or weight training can also lead to its development. Chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the joints, can also contribute to the development of this condition.

The major symptom of bursitis is inflammation. Inflammation can cause the thickening of the tendons and bursa. This inflammation can then lead to pain around shoulder, a reduced range of motion, swelling, redness, and pain when the arm is raised. Patients may notice that the pain becomes worse at night or when the shoulder is kept still for long periods of time. If symptoms include a fever the bursa may be infected.

How is shoulder bursitis diagnosed and treated?

Shoulder bursitis can be diagnosed by a physician examining the affected area or ordering imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds. An aspiration, which is a procedure that involves using a thin needle to drain fluid, can also be performed in order to test for gout or infection. Blood tests can also be ordered to rule out other conditions.

Treatment for shoulder bursitis are most commonly non-surgical in nature. A physician may recommend the patient rest the shoulder muscles in order to reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medication may be taken to further reduce swelling, and the patient may also be told to ice the affected area. Steroid injections can also be administered if symptoms do not improve, but are a temporary solution if symptoms still persist. Exercises can help to speed up recovery from shoulder bursitis. Physical therapy can help the patient regain optimal mobility in the shoulder. If the bursitis does not respond to other treatments surgery may be necessary.

How can I learn more about this condition?

If you have pain or swelling in your shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, buttocks or heel, you may have bursitis or another condition. Please call (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 immediately to schedule an appointment or take advantage of our walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover Monday – Friday 8am-12pm and 1pm-3pm.

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