Resolving Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is a painful condition that tends to develop more in middle-aged and older adults.  Shoulder bursitis can have many causes, but the most common is a repetitive activity, such as overhead reaching, throwing, or lifting, which creates friction in the upper shoulder area.  Shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tendonitis, and biceps tendinitis can occur along with shoulder bursitis.  The physical therapists at Movement Solutions can effectively treat all of these conditions together.

Shoulder bursitis occurs when the bursa (a fluid-filled sac on the side of the shoulder) becomes irritated, or inflamed.  Normally, the bursa acts as a cushion that prevents the tendon from rubbing on the bone above the bursa. Certain positions, motions, or disease processes can cause friction or stress on the bursa, leading to the development of bursitis. When the bursa becomes injured, the tendon doesn’t glide smoothly over it, and can become painful.

There are many factors that may lead to shoulder bursitis, including activities requiring repetitive overhead movement of the arms, weakness in the rotator cuff and muscles of the upper back, shoulder joint and/or muscle tightness, poor body mechanics (how a person controls his or her body when moving), an abrupt increase in an exercise routine, and age-related body changes.

Some contributing causes of bursitis include:

  • Repetitive motions (overhead reaching or lifting, throwing, or twisting of the arm)
  • Muscle weakness or poor muscle coordination
  • Poor posture
  • Trauma (being hit, or falling on, the side of the shoulder)
  • Shoulder surgery or replacement
  • Calcium deposits
  • Bone spurs
  • Muscles or tendons in the shoulder area rubbing the bursa and causing irritation

The symptoms of shoulder bursitis may include:

  • Pain on the outer side or tip of the shoulder
  • Pain when applying pressure on the tip of the shoulder
  • Pain when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain that worsens when lifting the arm to the side
  • Pain when rotating the arm
  • Pain when pushing or pulling open a door

In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from the aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for the inflammation to settle down and the bursa to heal. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

In many cases, bursitis coupled with poor mobility of the lats and the t-spine. This can be combined with weakness of the rotator cuff and the lat muscles.  In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and lower body, the way an active person moves can be affected which may lead to faulty shoulder mechanics. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a full-body movement assessment.

When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the shoulder girdle with resistance.  We know for the shoulder bursa to become durable at less prone to future injury, proper movement must be taught and a well designed strength and conditioning program must be initiated.

When addressed with a through physical therapy assessment and plan of care, shoulder bursitis is a condition that can resolve relatively quickly. However, any sort of repetitive activity with poor mechanics can develop into more serious conditions such as a full thickness tear or a degenerative shoulder condition.

When addressed with a thorough physical therapy plan of care, overcoming shoulder bursitis is possible. However, any sort of repetitive activity with poor mechanics can develop into a more serious shoulder condition.  If you think you may have shoulder bursitis, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

We have a free guide on relieving shoulder pain that can give you further insight into shoulder problems and help kick start your recovery.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If your concerns warrant an in-person consultation, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visit’s at our office.  This type of appointment of for those who are interested in getting shoulder pain behind them.  It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your condition, and develop confidence that we can help you.

If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can inquire about cost and availability. We will contact you, answer your questions, and determine if it makes sense to move forward.

If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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