Shoulder bursitis is a painful condition that affects people of all ages. The condition tends to develop more in middle-aged, elderly, and individuals who have muscle weakness. Shoulder bursitis can have many causes, but the most common is a repetitive activity, such as overhead reaching, throwing, or arm-twisting, which creates friction in the upper shoulder area. Athletes often develop shoulder bursitis after throwing, pitching, or swimming repetitively. The condition can happen gradually or suddenly, or can be a result of an autoimmune disease. It can also occur without any specific cause. Physical therapy can be a very effective treatment for shoulder bursitis to reduce pain, swelling, stiffness, and associated weakness in the shoulder, arm, neck, and upper back.

What shoulder bursitis means?
Shoulder bursitis occurs when the bursa (a fluid-filled sac on the side of the shoulder)
becomes damaged, irritated, or inflamed. Bursitis (“-itis”); means “inflammation”) means
the bursa has become irritated and inflamed, which causes pain. Normally, the bursa acts as a cushion for the rotator cuff tendon of the supraspinatus muscle that sits under the bursa, and prevents the tendon from rubbing on the acromion bone above the bursa. Certain positions, motions, or disease processes can cause friction or stress on the bursa, leading to the development of bursitis. When the bursa becomes injured, the tendon doesn’t glide smoothly
over it, and can become painful.


How Does it Feel?

  • Pain on the outer side or tip of the shoulder
  • Pain when you push with your finger on the tip of the shoulder
  • Pain when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain that worsens when lifting the arm to the side
  • Pain when rotating the arm
  • Pain when pushing or pulling open a door

How can shoulder bursitis be treated?
During the first 24 to 48 hours following your diagnosis, it’s recommended to:

  • Rest the area by avoiding lifting or reaching overhead, or any activity that causes pain.
  • Apply ice packs to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
  • Consult with a physician for further services, such as medication or diagnostic tests.
    Here are some examples of exercises for you to try. Start each exercise slowly. Ease off the exercises if you start to have pain. You will be told when to start these exercises and which ones will work best for you by your physical therapist or physician.

Up-the-back stretch You can do this stretch in different ways. Hold any of these stretches for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
Repeat them 2 to 4 times.
1. Light stretch: Put your hand in your back pocket. Let it rest there to stretch your shoulder.
2. Moderate stretch: With your other hand, hold your injured arm (palm outward) behind your back by the wrist. Pull your arm up gently to stretch your shoulder.
3. Advanced stretch: Put a towel over your other shoulder. Put the hand of your injured arm behind your back. Now hold the back end of the towel. With the other hand, hold the front end of the towel in front of your body. Pull gently on the front end of the towel. This will bring your hand farther up your back to stretch your shoulder.

Overhead stretch
1. Standing about an arm's length away, grasp onto a solid surface. You could use a countertop, a doorknob, or the back of a sturdy chair.
2. With your knees slightly bent, bend forward with your arms straight. Lower your upper body, and let your shoulders stretch.
3. As your shoulders are able to stretch farther, you may need to take a step or two backward.
4. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Then stand up and relax. If you had stepped back during your stretch, step forward so you can keep your hands on the solid surface.
5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.


External rotator strengthening exercise

1. Start by tying a piece of elastic exercise material to a doorknob. You can use surgical tubing or Thera-Band. (You may also hold one end of the band in each hand.)
2. Stand or sit with your shoulder relaxed and your elbow bent 90 degrees. Your upper arm should rest comfortably against your side. Squeeze a rolled towel between your elbow and your body for comfort. This will help keep your arm at your side.
3. Hold one end of the elastic band with the hand of the painful arm.
4. Start with your forearm across your belly. Slowly rotate the forearm out away from your body. Keep your elbow and upper arm tucked against the towel roll or the side of your body until you begin to feel tightness in your shoulder. Slowly move your arm back to where you started.
5. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Shoulder blade squeeze
1. Stand with your arms at your sides, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Do not raise your shoulders up as you squeeze.
2. Hold 6 seconds.
3. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Take away tip
Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

  • Follow a consistent flexibility and strengthening exercise program, especially for the shoulder muscles, to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sport’s off-season or after you retire from sports.
  • Always warm up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity.
  • Learn and maintain good posture.

Q&A: What activities can cause shoulder bursitis?
If you have the answer please send it to ( and receive 10% discount on the upcoming (IPS) injury prevention specialist course from FACTS.

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