Shoulder Bursitis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

It is an inflammation or irritation of the bursa, usually accompanied by an accumulation of fluid with proteins and blood particles.

The bursa is a kind of sac containing lubricating fluid, located between tissues, bone, muscle, tendons and skin. Its function is to reduce friction, friction and irritation.

Shoulder bursitis is common among people who practice sports at a professional level and those whose activity involves bearing heavy loads on the joints of their shoulders.


Shoulder bursitis can be caused by:

A repetitive and slight impact on the shoulder: Excessive use of the shoulder joint in activities such as raking, shoveling, painting, tennis, golf, skiing, throwing, among others.

For a sudden and serious injury:  The bursa of the shoulder can develop and become inflamed due to damage to the soft tissues, after an injury or as a consequence of an infection, and may develop septic bursitis.

An underlying rheumatic condition: Due to stress or inflammation of other conditions, such as gout, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis .

Age:  As the tendons age, they tolerate less stress, they are less elastic and easier to tear. Shoulder bursitis occurs in people after 50 years of age.

An incorrect position: Adopt a bad posture at work or at home.

Poor stretching: Poor conditioning or stretching before exercise can also cause shoulder bursitis.

Because of metabolic problems: As for example calcium accumulation.

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is a disease that does not cause major problems in the initial stage, but as it progresses, it manifests with many symptoms.

Among the most common are:

  • As a general rule, the most common symptom of shoulder bursitis is pain. This can be gradual or be sudden and severe. The location of the pain is in the shoulder or upper arm area.
  • Loss of mobility in the shoulder, called “adhesive capsulitis” or frozen shoulder that is usually accompanied by acute pain.
  • Swelling in the area of ​​the shoulder joint.
  • Redness of the skin and increase of the local body temperature in the area above the inflamed joint.
  • Purulent processes that cause body poisoning. In this case, you may have a headache, chills and fever.

Without proper treatment, there is a risk of developing a septic form of shoulder bursitis. In this case, the pain becomes strong and throbbing.


Doctors can diagnose shoulder bursitis usually only based on medical records and physical exams.

If necessary, the following tests can be carried out:

Image tests

X-rays do not diagnose shoulder bursitis on their own, but they help rule out the rest of the causes of your discomfort.

Magnetic resonance or ultrasound is also used if it can not be diagnosed only with a physical examination.

Lab tests

When the patient presents with shoulder bursitis, he or she can be ordered an analysis of the inflamed bag or blood analysis to identify the pain in the joint as well as to know the cause of the inflammation.

Treatment of shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis can be treated in several ways and will depend on the degree and type of injury:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories : Proposed for pain relief and a significant reduction of inflammation, avoiding side effects from prolonged use.

Cortisone administration : Non-infectious bursitis of the shoulder can be treated with cortisone that is injected into the inflamed pouch. This is usually done at the same time as the aspiration procedure.

Administration of gels and ointments : Usually in mild cases of bursitis this can be a very effective treatment, it is also recommended for severe bursitis of the joint, treatment with ointments is accompanied by immobilization of the affected joint with special orthopedic equipment .

Administration of antibiotics : In the purulent form of bursitis, it is necessary to apply antibiotics to fight the infection.

Physical therapy : This often helps reduce pain and prevent swelling. This type of treatment is aimed at gradually advancing the activity of the shoulder muscles, some of these procedures are calcium electrophoresis, iontophoresis with hydrocortisone and magnetic treatment.

Physiotherapy is used in the treatment of bursitis especially when accompanied by a frozen shoulder.

Massage : Massage, as well as physiological procedures should be performed after neutralizing inflammation.

Surgery : The chronic form of shoulder bursitis requires surgical intervention in 80% of cases. Infectious or septic bursitis requires a deeper evaluation and aggressive treatment.

Once the intervention is done, a sample is taken to perform a biopsy.

You should also avoid physical activities that cause or aggravate the problem and keep the injured area at rest.

A therapy with oral or intravenous antibiotics is used in septic bursitis. One or more aspirations of the inflamed fluid may be required.

Usually, the adjacent joint functions normally after the surgical wound heals.