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Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder Bursitis

Sometimes known as shoulder impingement syndrome, shoulder bursitis is an inflammation of the subacromial bursa, a sac of fluid designed to prevent friction in your shoulder joint.

Repeated shoulder movements can result in this sac become squashed, inflamed or irritated, resulting in varying degrees of shoulder pain. A good shoulder support can help to relieve this.

Detailed Overview

Primary and secondary bursitis

There are two levels of shoulder or subacromial bursitis, primary and secondary. In primary cases it could be that the space holding the sac is very small, putting undue pressure on it, particularly with repeated overhead movements used in basketball or shelf stacking. Secondary cases are also caused by the same kind of repeated overhead activity, but are found in those with shoulder instability. This means the rotator cuff becomes very weak and cannot stop your upper arm from squashing your subacromial bursa.

The condition usually appears gradually in people who play sport using these types of movements or who have a job which requires them. It can however appear suddenly after a fall, or in those who suddenly use their shoulders when they aren't used to it (so decorating or playing a new sport, for example).


The symptoms of the condition are shoulder pain and a reduced range of motion. You might find it is too painful to do things like wash your hair or reach for a high cupboard, and you may also notice some shoulder pain in the morning if you have slept on the affected side.

Your GP will refer you for an X-ray and MRI scan which will determine the extent of your shoulder injury and if you do have subacromial bursa. If it is caught early enough then you will be able to manage the symptoms using physiotherapy and ice treatment. Try to apply ice wrapped in a cloth or towel to your affected shoulder for 20 minute periods, every few hours. This can help to reduce any inflammation and swelling. Your physiotherapist can then give you a series of exercises to help restore the full range of movement in your arm. If your condition has progressed, you may need a corticosteroid injection, which can slow inflammation.


One of the best ways to prevent a reoccurence of subacromial bursa is to continue to do your shoulder stability exercises, focusing on keeping your range of motion full and active, helping your shoulder to withstand more strenuous activities and sports.

As with any type of shoulder pain, the key is to strengthen and support your joint as much as possible to prevent the onset or return of the injury. You could try using a shoulder support during sports or household activities to help keep your joint strong and supported.