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Bursitis of the shoulder occurs when there is swelling and redness between the top of the arm bone (e.g., humerus) and the tip of the shoulder (e.g., acromion). Between these bones lie the tendons of the rotator cuff and a fluid-filled sac (e.g., the bursa) that protects the tendons. Normally, the tendons slide effortlessly within this space. In some people, this space becomes too narrow for normal motion. This causes irritation to the tendons and bursa, which become inflamed. Inflammation causes the tendons and bursa to swell, making the space for movement still smaller. Eventually, this space becomes too narrow for the tendons and the bursa—and every time they move, they are pinched between the bones.
Warming up before strenuous exercise and cooling down afterward is the most effective way to avoid bursitis and other strains affecting the bones, muscles and ligaments. In addition, avoid activities that aggravate the problem, rest the affected area after activity, and cushion your joints to avoid prolonged pressure and trauma.
The main symptom of shoulder bursitis is an aching pain with overhead activities, or with pressure on the upper or outer arm.
After hearing a description of the pain, a qualified surgeon typically diagnoses bursitis by:
Surgery is rarely needed for shoulder bursitis. The first step in treatment is to cease the repetitive motion or activity that’s causing the problem, and in some cases, to immobilize the affected joint. Icing the area and taking an anti-inflammatory medication for a few weeks are also initial treatment steps. If shoulder bursitis continues, our physicians may inject cortisone into the area to reduce inflammation. Shoulder pain and/or a lack of mobility in the joint persist after these more conservative treatments, surgery would be considered to drain excess fluid and remove damaged tissue.