5 Non-Surgical Treatments for Shoulder Bursitis

Simple ways to reduce rotator cuff inflammation

Shoulder bursitis is the most common cause of shoulder pain. Often called rotator cuff tendonitis or impingement syndrome, the condition is characterized by inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons as well as the bursa cushioning the shoulder. Typical symptoms include:

  • Pain with certain shoulder movements
  • Pain at night that can awaken you from sleep
  • Shooting pains that extend down the outer edge of your arm

The good news is that, with simple treatment, most people with shoulder bursitis can find relief without surgery. Here are some options that may help:

Immobilize the Affected Shoulder

Woman touching aching back

Tetra Images/Brand X Images/Getty Images

The first step to treating acute shoulder pain is to decrease the inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and surrounding bursa. The rule is simple: if a certain movement causes you pain, stop it.

Often the best way to do this is to immobilize the arm with a specialized arm sling. Even if the pain only occurs when you reach over your head, immobilizing your arm ensures you don't accidentally move in the wrong way and injure yourself. Wearing a sling can also help protect your shoulder when sleeping at night.

Time is your best friend when faced with a rotator cuff injury. By giving your shoulder the rest it needs, your body has the chance to heal itself.

Use Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Ibuprofen pill pack on table
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Inflammation can be greatly alleviated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). These over-the-counter medications provide effective, short-term relief by concurrently reducing pain and swelling associated with bursitis.

While Tylenol (acetaminophen) is great for pain relief, it doesn't offer any of the anti-inflammatory benefits of NSAIDs.

As with any medication, there are a number of possible side effects that may contraindicate treatment in some. Be sure to speak with your doctor or pharmacist before embarking on non-prescription therapy to ensure it's safe and appropriate.

Ice the Shoulder

woman icing her shoulder with an ice pack
nolimitpictures/Getty Images

Ice is especially helpful for any condition caused by inflammation. Ice packs are usually most beneficial when the pain is acute or if chronic bursitis suddenly flares up.

But be sure to do so safely. Do not leave an ice pack on one spot but rather "massage" it around the affected area. Never ice a shoulder for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Doing so can actually cause frostbite.

Schedule Physical Therapy

Physical therapist leading older man through shoulder exercise

andresr/Getty Images

Once the acute pain and swelling have been relieved, physical therapy can return to normal activity far faster than if you just let things be. The aim of therapy is to help strengthen the muscles around the rotator cuff and restore the shoulder's flexibility and full range of motion.

People will often be surprised how much muscle tone they have lost after just a week of immobilization. To ensure you fully recover and are less prone to future injury, physical therapy should always be explored and followed by a structured routine of shoulder-strengthening exercises.

Ask Your Doctor About Cortisone Shots

doctor filling syringe

Hero Images/Getty Images

If none of the above-listed treatments provide adequate relief, you may want to speak with your doctor about whether a cortisone (steroid) injection is an appropriate option.

While effective for reducing shoulder pain and inflammation, cortisone shorts can accelerate joint damage and weaken tendons if overused.

It's not a form of treatment you should rush into or use for anything more than short-term relief.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Faruqi T, Rizvi TJ. Subacromial Bursitis. [Updated 2019 Jun 4]. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. 

  2. Varacallo M, Mair SD. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis. [Updated 2019 Jun 4]. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. 

  3. Williams CH, Sternard BT. Bursitis. [Updated 2019 Sep 11]. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. 

  4. Burger M, Africa C, Droomer K, et al. Effect of corticosteroid injections versus physiotherapy on pain, shoulder range of motion and shoulder function in patients with subacromial impingement syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. S Afr J Physiother. 2016;72(1):318. doi:10.4102/sajp.v72i1.318

Additional Reading