Bursitis of the Shoulder

Bursitis of the shoulder is a condition in which the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located between the bone and soft tissue of the shoulder joint, becomes inflamed.

The bursa serves as a cushion to reduce friction between the bone and soft tissue, such as tendons or muscles, during movement. However, when the bursa becomes inflamed, it can cause pain, tenderness, and limited mobility in the affected shoulder.

Bursitis of the shoulder can be caused by a variety of factors, including repetitive overhead movements, trauma, or infection, and is often treated with rest, ice and heat therapy, and medication to manage pain and inflammation.

Causes of Bursitis of the Shoulder

Bursitis of the shoulder can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Repetitive overhead movements: Activities that require repetitive overhead movements, such as painting, throwing a ball, or lifting weights above the head, can cause irritation and inflammation of the bursa in the shoulder.

Trauma: A direct blow to the shoulder or a fall can cause bursitis of the shoulder.

Age: As people age, the bursa can become less elastic and more prone to injury or inflammation.

Calcium deposits: Calcium deposits in the bursa can cause irritation and inflammation, leading to bursitis.

Infection: In rare cases, an infection in the bursa can cause bursitis of the shoulder.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and damage to the joints, can also cause bursitis in the shoulder.

Other medical conditions: Other medical conditions, such as gout or thyroid disorders, can increase the risk of developing bursitis of the shoulder.

It is important to identify and address the underlying cause of bursitis of the shoulder in order to prevent further injury or inflammation.

Signs and Symptoms of Bursitis of the Shoulder

The signs and symptoms of bursitis of the shoulder may include:

  • Pain: Pain is the most common symptom of bursitis of the shoulder. The pain is usually localized to the affected shoulder and may be a dull ache or a sharp, intense pain. It may be present at rest or during movement.
  • Limited mobility: Range of motion in the shoulder may be limited, particularly when attempting to reach overhead or behind the back.
  • Swelling: Swelling or redness around the shoulder joint may be present, particularly if the bursa is infected.
  • Stiffness: Stiffness in the shoulder joint is common, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Tenderness: The affected area may be tender to the touch.
  • Weakness: Weakness in the affected shoulder may occur, making it difficult to perform everyday activities that require the use of the shoulder.

If you experience these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention to receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Treatment for Bursitis of the Shoulder

Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment option for bursitis of the shoulder. Here are some common physiotherapy treatments:

Range of motion exercises: Range of motion exercises can help restore normal shoulder movement and flexibility. These exercises may include gentle stretching and mobility exercises.

Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises can help improve the stability and strength of the shoulder joint. These exercises may include resistance band exercises, weight training, and isometric exercises.

Manual therapy: Manual therapy techniques such as massage, myofascial release, and joint mobilization can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and improve the range of motion in the shoulder joint.

Ice and heat therapy: Alternating ice and heat therapy can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Ice therapy is typically used in the acute phase of bursitis to reduce pain and swelling, while heat therapy is used in the subacute or chronic phase to improve blood flow and promote healing.

Ultrasound therapy: Ultrasound therapy uses high-frequency sound waves to promote healing and reduce inflammation in the affected area.

Education: Education on proper posture, ergonomics, and activity modification can help prevent future episodes of bursitis.

It is important to consult with a qualified physiotherapist to develop an individualized treatment plan based on your specific symptoms and needs. In some cases, more aggressive treatments such as corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about bursitis of the shoulder please call us at 03 9836 1126.



McCarthy CJ, et al. (2006). A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of a home-based exercise programme on the rehabilitation of shoulder pain. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 15(4), 347-352.

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