Shoulder bursitis debunked

There are three main reasons why shoulder bursitis is such a common aliment and this joint area is so vulnerable to a variety of injuries and issues in general.

1. The shoulder is a complex joint consisting of a number of interconnected bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bursae.

2. The ball and socket joint of a shoulder allows for an amazingly wide range of motion (e.g. swinging, throwing,…).

3. There are several bursae in the shoulder region: sub-acromial, sub-deltoid, sub-coracoid, sub-scapular, pectoralis major or latissimus dorsi. Opportunities for inflammation galore.

If you have inflammed bursae in your shoulder, you are often diagnosed with one of the two prevalent types of bursitis in this area of the body:

  • Subacromial bursitis
  • Subdeltoid bursitis

Common causes of shoulder bursitis

Impingement syndrome

Shoulder rotator cuff muscles, tendons and associated bursae can get squeezed between the bones and become irritated as every time they need to move between the shoulder bones, they are pinched (hence the 'impingement' name of the syndrome).

Injury of a shoulder

Hard blow into the shoulder area as a result of car or sports accident, for example, can irritate the bursa also.


Aging causes the shoulder bursa to break down over time.

Other structures around the shoulder bursa also become less elastic and supplied by blood and nutrients with age and so more prone to injury.

Other medical conditions

Certain health aliments can increase your risk of developing bursitis and tendonitis, because they may:

  • Weaken the immune systems (e.g. cancer)
  • Promote hormonal imbalance in the body (e.g. thyroid issues)
  • Cause inflammation or even infection in the joint area (e.g. gout, arthritis, tendonitis)
  • Create bone growths that can irritate the bursa and tendons

Work and free time activities

Overuse of the shoulder at your work or during recreational activities that involve long periods spent:

  • Doing repetitive motions
  • In awkward positions
  • With loads of pressure
  • Experiencing vibrations


Alcohol, medical drugs, caffeine, tobacco, acidic and processed foods.

Anatomical cause

Sometimes by design, the bursa is not able to glide smoothly between the bones, joints, muscles and tendons of the shoulder.

Also, there are not so many blood vessels in the shoulder rotator cuff area and so problems may crop up more often here and take forever to heal.

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis

  • Limited range of motion of the shoulder (e.g. can’t raise your arm over your head)
  • Pain in the side or front of the shoulder or arm, even at rest, aggravated by movement
  • Pain is present – and often worse - at night, especially when you turn onto your sore shoulder
  • Swelling, heat, redness, tenderness
  • Your shoulder and upper arm may not be as strong as usual
  • Muscle contractures (particularly in the long-term)

Treatment of shoulder bursitis

No matter what type of treatment for bursitis you go for, the goal is to subside inflammation, regain full range of motion and to prevent muscle atrophy from immobilizing the shoulder joint for too long.

Prevention, prevention, prevention

Once you get rid of the inflammation and gain the range of motion back in the shoulder area, you should seriously start thinking about doing some shoulder exercises to rebuild strength in the muscles and tenons to avoid further injuries and bursitis flares.

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