What is Shoulder Bursitis?
Every major joint of the body has a synovial bursa, which is a small, oily fluid filled sac that allows and facilitates smooth movement between the moving parts of a joint (tendons, muscle, and bones). When a bursa becomes irritated, it becomes inflamed making the space for movement smaller and smaller. This can cause further swelling to occur and potentially lead to a shoulder impingement of joint tissue between moving parts.
In most cases, bursitis of the shoulder is caused by performing repetitive movements for an extended period of time, such as throwing a baseball, playing tennis, painting, scrubbing, gardening, carpentry, etc. Shoulder bursitis can also be exacerbated by a physical trauma or previous injury to the joint area. Your risk for developing bursitis increases with age as joint components, including the bursa, tend to decline as you get older. People over the age of 40 are at the highest risk for developing bursitis. Shoulder bursitis can also be brought on by other joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and thyroid disorder.
Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis
- The most common symptoms of shoulder bursitis include pains, stiffness, swelling, limited range of motion (also known as frozen shoulder), tenderness, and in some cases crunching or popping during movement. Symptoms can range from mild and gradual to severe and sudden. Another common complaint of people with shoulder bursitis is an inability to lift things over the head without experiencing pain.
Treatment for Shoulder Bursitis
- Initial treatment for mild shoulder bursitis sufferers involves rest and applying a cold compress to the affected shoulder. Other common treatments for more moderate to severe sufferers includes taking anti-inflammatory medications and steroid shots; however, these are only temporary pain relievers that also come with a list of potential side effects. In very severe cases of chronic shoulder bursitis, surgery may be a necessary treatment.
Once your symptoms have subdued, the best way to treat bursitis is by taking preventive measures to avoid causing inflammation to occur in the first place. Preventive measures for shoulder bursitis include:
- Stretching regularly to increase mobility and range of motion.
- Strength training regularly to condition the surrounding muscle of the shoulder joint.
- Avoiding prolonged repetitive movements, especially ones where you are lifting up over your head.
- Avoiding any other movements that you know irritates the area.
Stretches & Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms
*Before performing any of these stretches or exercises, please remember:
- Always consult with your physician before engaging in any new exercise program to ensure it is safe and appropriate for your particular condition.
- Flexible tissue is more tolerant of the stresses placed on it during activities. Warm up the area before stretching or exercising by either doing 5-10 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking) or applying a heat pad to the affected area.
- Each stretch should be held for 20 to 30 seconds.
- A gentle stretching sensation should be felt, but never pain.
Range of Motion and Stretching Exercises for Shoulder Bursitis and Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
1. Shoulder Pendulum Stretch
- You’ll need a 3-5 lb. weight or any 3-5 lb. household object that you can comfortably grasp. Bend at the waist so your afflicted arm is dangling straight down. You may want to hold onto a table or chair with the opposite arm for support. Keeping your dangling arm loose, gently rotate your arm in a circular motion while keeping your arm and shoulder relaxed. Rotate clockwise for 2-3 minutes and then counterclockwise for 2-3 minutes and repeat until your shoulder feels loosened.
2. Internal Shoulder Rotation Stretch
- You’ll need a rolled up standard bath towel to perform this stretch. Hold the towel at both ends with your better hand behind your neck and the hand of the arm afflicted by bursitis behind your lower back. Pull your lower arm up the back by pulling up with your higher arm. Hold the stretch for five seconds and then return to the starting position by pulling down with you lower arm. Repeat 10 times and then make sure to switch arms (lower arm up and upper arm down).
3. Shoulder Flexion Stretch
- You’ll need a non-weighted bar, or a household item such as a broom handle to perform this stretch. Standing with good posture (core is tight, chest is up, and shoulder blades are back and down) grasp the handle shoulder width apart with your palms down. Then keeping your arms perfectly straight, raise the bar up directly over your head, hold for 5 seconds and then slowly bring it all the way back down to the starting position and repeat 10-20 times in 3-4 sets.
Strengthening Exercises for Shoulder Bursitis and Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
1. Standing Scapular Elevation
- You’ll need a pair of 5-10 lbs. dumbbells or any household objects that you can comfortably grasp. Standing with good posture (core is tight, chest is up, and shoulder blades are back and down), shrug your shoulders and traps straight up keeping your arms perfectly straight. Hold for five seconds and then slowly lower your shoulders back down to the starting position. Repeat 10-20 times in 3-4 sets.
2. Standing Shoulder Scaption
- You’ll need a pair of 3-5 lbs. dumbbells or any household objects that you can comfortably grasp. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with optimal posture and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other in a neutral grip position. Next, bring both dumbbells up into a “Y” formation on a 45-degree angle from your body and hold for 2-3 seconds. Be sure not to raise the dumbbells above shoulder height. Slowly return back down to the starting position and repeat 10-20 times in 3-4 sets.
3. Upright External Shoulder Rotation
- You’ll need a 3-5 lbs. dumbbell or any household object that you can comfortably grasp. Stand with the dumbbell positioned out to side of head, elbow bent, and shoulder height with the dumbbell directly above the elbow. Slowly lower the dumbbell forward by rotating at the shoulder until the dumbbell is in line with your shoulder. Return the dumbbell the same way back to the starting position and repeat 10-20 times in 3-4 sets for each shoulder.