What Is Shoulder Bursitis?

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Shoulder bursitis is inflammation of a bursa, a fluid-filled sac, in the shoulder joint. Bursae provide padding between bones, tendons, and ligaments to reduce friction and improve joint movement throughout the body. There are multiple bursae in the shoulder, but this condition most commonly affects one called the subacromial bursa.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of shoulder bursitis.

woman wearing a blue shirt and holding her shoulder

Anupong Thongchan / EyeEm / Getty Images

Bursae are located throughout the body and provide padding between bones and other structures in your joints. There are about 150 bursae in the body.

Types of Shoulder Bursitis

The three general types of shoulder bursitis are:

  • Chronic (develops over time)
  • Acute (occurs from trauma)
  • Infected (bacteria infect the bursa)

Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms

The primary symptom of shoulder bursitis is pain, which can feel like:

  • Dull/aching pain at rest and during everyday activities
  • Pain that radiates along the front of the shoulder and the outside of the upper arm
  • Sharp pain with lifting or reaching overhead
  • Pain when palpating (touching) the shoulder
  • Increased pain at night, especially when lying on the affected arm

Other symptoms of shoulder bursitis include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Bruising (from trauma)
  • Numbness/tingling (if swelling presses on nearby nerves)

Bursitis caused by infection can also cause:

  • Warm skin
  • Redness (at the shoulder and along the arm)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Swelling that spreads down the arm

Causes of Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis commonly develops over time from repetitive shoulder motion or overuse. It is common in people who perform manual labor requiring frequent reaching overhead or lifting, as well as athletes who participate in sports that require throwing a ball or using a racquet.

Other causes of bursitis include:

Bursae can also become inflamed as a side effect of other medical conditions, such as:

Vaccines and Shoulder Bursitis

While temporary shoulder pain is common after getting a vaccine, a rare condition called shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) can also lead to bursitis. It occurs when a vaccine needle is inserted into the bursa instead of the deltoid muscle. Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications (oral or injected), and symptoms can last for weeks to months. However, this condition usually doesn't require surgery.

How Is Shoulder Bursitis Diagnosed?

Shoulder bursitis is diagnosed by a healthcare provider, such as an orthopedist, based on a review of your symptoms and a physical exam. Your provider may perform shoulder-specific tests to determine which structures in your shoulder joint are causing your pain.

In some cases, additional imaging might be required to help rule out broken bones or tendon tears that can occur with bursitis. These tests can include:

Diagnosing bursitis caused by infection can also include blood tests and joint aspiration (draining fluid from joints) to determine the type of bacteria in the bursa.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis usually improves with conservative (nonsurgical) treatment, and symptoms often go away independently.

Initial treatment focuses on reducing pain and inflammation, such as:

  • Rest: Avoid activities that increase pain.
  • Ice/heat: Apply ice several times per day, 20 minutes at a time, for the first 48 hours, particularly if your bursitis resulted from trauma. You can apply heat to the shoulder if you have chronic pain.
  • Gentle range of motion exercises: Reduce stiffness by moving your shoulder in pain-free directions.
  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve (naproxen), Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), and Bayer (aspirin), can help reduce symptoms. Shoulder bursitis that is caused by infection is treated with antibiotics.

See your healthcare provider if your symptoms are not improving within a few days or getting worse. You might need prescription medication or a cortisone injection.

Physical therapy is a standard treatment for shoulder bursitis. Interventions can include:

Although rarely used, subacromial decompression surgery can treat shoulder bursitis. This procedure is performed arthroscopically, using several tiny incisions and tools to remove the damaged bursa. Bone spurs, or growths that contribute to bursitis, can also be shaved down during this surgery. Physical therapy can help restore function after this procedure.

Prognosis for Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis usually improves with conservative treatment, especially with early recognition and treatment. However, chronic inflammation in the shoulder joint can lead to additional problems, such as a rotator cuff tear or adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).


Shoulder bursitis occurs when tiny sacs of fluid in the shoulder joint (bursae) become inflamed. This condition can develop from repetitive reaching or lifting overhead or as a result of trauma (such as a fall). In rare cases, bursitis is caused by bacterial infection. Symptoms include pain, swelling, decreased range of motion, weakness, and difficulty performing daily tasks.

Shoulder bursitis is diagnosed with a physical exam, including special orthopedic tests to help your healthcare provider identify the source of your shoulder pain. Sometimes, additional imaging tests (such as X-rays or MRI) are required. Treatment includes home remedies, medications, physical therapy, and in severe cases, surgery. Sometimes, shoulder bursitis improves on its own.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Shoulder bursitis.

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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.