Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis

November 12, 2012

Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis

The shoulder is a wonderful hinge allowing for a wide range of motion in the arm. Unfortunately, the shoulder can also develop a painful condition called bursitis. Bursitis is the swelling of small sacs in the shoulder called the bursae. When not swollen, an individual bursa sac helps keep the shoulder moving smoothly, keeping body parts like bones and ligaments from rubbing against each other. There are over 160 bursae in the body’s joints, of which only eight are in the shoulders.

There are many causes of shoulder bursitis but the most common cause is through repetitive stress injury. People who need to move their arms often, such as gardeners or construction workers, can damage their bursae through overwork. The main symptoms of bursitis can be seen and felt, but these symptoms can be similar to other problems. Getting a diagnostic scan such as an MRI or an X-ray can better help a doctor to diagnose the cause of a patient’s shoulder pain.

Pain In the Shoulder

Shoulder bursitis pain often happens in just one shoulder, but can occur in both. Pain is often a deep sore feeling but sometimes can feel like sharp pains. Pain can come intermittently or stay more or less permanently. In the latter case, pain remains even when a person is resting his or her shoulders. Pain may spread up to the neck. Pain may wake patients up from a sound sleep.

The pain is often so bad that patients are unable to raise their arms straight up in the air over their heads. Doctors may ask a patient to try and raise his or her arms in an attempt to diagnose shoulder bursitis as opposed to shoulder tendonitis or arthritis. If anyone touches the sore shoulder, the patient usually flinches as this area is exceptionally tender to even slight touches.

Coordination Problems

Even if the pain is controlled with a painkiller, a patient with shoulder bursitis may have great difficulty in moving his or her arm and shoulder. The patient may become clumsy or have difficulty putting clothes on or taking them off because of the shoulder’s stiffness. This stiffness is due to the swollen bursae impeding the normal motion of tendons, bones and tissues of the shoulder.

The arms become weaker as shoulder bursitis progresses. The patient will find lifting, pulling or pushing objects harder to do.


Sometimes shoulders of patients with bursitis will visibly swell or puff out, similar to the swellings that patients with shoulder arthritis experience. Not all patients with shoulder bursitis will have swollen shoulders.

In Conclusion

Bursitis is painful but treatable if caught early enough. The main symptoms are pain in the shoulder, stiffness and swelling. If experiencing these symptoms, contact a doctor as soon as possible to prevent bursitis from getting worse.


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