Our bodies include more than 150 bursae, which are thin, fluid-filled sacs that help prevent friction between bones and nearby soft tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, and skin. Shoulder bursitis—the most common form of bursitis—occurs when a bursa within the shoulder becomes irritated and inflamed, causing it to grow thicker as it fills with extra fluid. There are three types of shoulder bursitis:

  • Chronic shoulder bursitis – Symptoms periodically flare up and may last for several months at a time. This is the most common type of shoulder bursitis.
  • Acute shoulder bursitis – Symptoms develop suddenly, typically due to a shoulder injury.
  • Infected shoulder bursitis – A bacterial infection (for example, a staph infection) can sometimes develop within a shoulder bursa. This type of shoulder bursitis is relatively rare.

Shoulder Bursitis Causes & Risk Factors

As was noted above, shoulder bursitis is characterized by the irritation and inflammation of a shoulder bursa. Chronic shoulder bursitis often results from overusing the shoulder or performing repetitive shoulder motions—especially if they involve reaching overhead—since they can place excess stress on the bursa. As such, individuals who work jobs, play sports, or engage in hobbies requiring lots of overhead motions have a higher risk of developing shoulder bursitis.

Having one or more of the following conditions can also increase someone’s chances of experiencing shoulder bursitis:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Uremia

Of course, having any of these risk factors present does not necessarily mean that someone will develop shoulder bursitis—it simply increases their chances of experiencing the condition.

Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms

Shoulder bursitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness (this may involve sharp pain or a dull ache, and may worsen when reaching overhead or lying on the affected shoulder)
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion in the affected arm

In some cases, shoulder bursitis symptoms develop gradually over time, while in other instances, they occur more suddenly. Acute shoulder bursitis may involve bruising, and infected shoulder bursitis may also cause redness, a fever, fatigue, and an overall feeling of being sick.

Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

If you think you might have shoulder bursitis, it’s important to promptly seek treatment, since chronic inflammation can damage the affected bursa and impact shoulder mobility (infected shoulder bursitis, in particular, can spread to other areas of the body and sometimes become life-threatening). Depending on the type of shoulder bursitis present and the extent of symptoms, treatment may involve:

  • Taking pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or corticosteroids (in cases involving infected shoulder bursitis, this might also include antibiotics)
  • Icing the shoulder
  • Periodically resting the shoulder
  • Participating in physical therapy
  • Undergoing aspiration, which involves removing fluid from the bursa with a syringe
  • Receiving steroid injections
  • Undergoing surgery to remove the bursa itself or damaged tissues that are irritating the bursa

Get the Shoulder Bursitis Treatment You Need

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of shoulder bursitis, don’t wait any longer—contact North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic today and ask to schedule an appointment with one of the skilled orthopedists at our Durham, NC, office. Since 2003, we’ve been assisting patients with a wide range of orthopedic issues, including many affecting the shoulder, and we look forward to helping you achieve the relief you deserve.