Shoulder Bursitis: What you need to know

Overview of shoulder bursitis

In your shoulders, there are tiny fluid-filled sacs known as a bursa. Think of bursae like shock absorbers that sit between the shoulder joint, reducing the tension between the tissues that make up the shoulder. Bursitis means inflammation of the bursa; when this occurs, you may experience shoulder pain and discomfort.

There are six different bursa located in your shoulder and over 150 in your body. The most commonly affected bursa in the shoulder is the subacromial bursa. This bursa separates your collarbone from your rotator cuff muscles. When it becomes inflamed, you will experience pain with any movement of the shoulder above head height. Subacromial bursitis is commonly associated with impingement syndrome.


The bursa provides a layer of cushioning between the shoulder joint. The level of inflammation within the bursa will affect the amount of pain you experience. Like anything in the human body, the symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may only experience mild discomfort, whereas others may find bursitis debilitating.

If you are experiencing shoulder bursitis, there are a few symptoms that are quite common:

Causes of bursitis

Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of shoulder bursitis.

Whilst these may increase the risk of bursitis, they alone will not cause it.

Certain factors can cause bursitis of the shoulder.

Sometimes, people will present with bursitis without any major apparent cause. There are some cases in which bursitis will go unnoticed, as there may not be any symptoms at all. This is usually in relatively mild cases with no other contributing factors.


There are a few ways in which bursitis of the shoulder may be diagnosed. If you are suffering from shoulder pain, then it is vital to get assessed by a medical professional.

Your local physiotherapist will provide the most comprehensive assessment to determine the likelihood of bursitis.

If your physio suspects bursitis, then they may send you for an ultrasound to confirm. This may not always be necessary, as the symptoms and injury presentation may be enough information to confirm the diagnosis.

Following your assessment, your physiotherapist will be able to plan the appropriate treatment for you.


There are a few things you can do yourself immediately to assist in the treatment of bursitis.

If self-management is not enough, you may need a physiotherapist to assist in the treatment and recovery process.

What will physiotherapy do?

Firstly, your physiotherapist will conduct an assessment, taking the time to diagnose your condition accurately. Once they have established that you do have bursitis, then treatment can begin.

Treatment will be a combination of:

To get the best outcome, you must participate in the rehabilitation of your shoulder. You will be required to change individual behaviours as well as do some exercises at home to assist in the treatment.

Recovering from shoulder bursitis

Given how varied the symptoms and severity of bursitis can be, it stands to reason that the recovery times can also vary quite considerably. Mild cases of bursitis should resolve in a matter of weeks if managed correctly. More complex cases can take additional time, as there is likely to be other issues as well as bursitis to resolve.

The main factors that will affect recovery time are:


We would all rather avoid injuries such as bursitis where possible. There are a few things you can do to try and reduce the likelihood of bursitis.

Your physiotherapist can provide you with some guidance regarding the best exercises to do to prevent shoulder bursitis.


Will shoulder bursitis go away?

Yes, it can! Appropriate treatment, combined with specific exercises and stretches is the best approach to bursitis. The quicker that you deal with it, the better the recovery.

What does bursitis in the shoulder feel like?

The feeling of bursitis can vary for each individual, but usually, it will feel like a dull ache right at the tip of the shoulder. This ache can be persistent and quite uncomfortable. You may also have pain with overhead movements as well as pain when lying on the affected shoulder. Some people also experience numbness or a tingling sensation that feels deep within the joint.

What causes shoulder bursitis?

Many factors influence whether or not you have bursitis of the shoulder. Several things lead to bursitis:

To reduce your risk of bursitis, then looking after your health is critical. A good diet and regular exercise are key factors in reducing your chances of suffering bursitis.

How should I sleep with bursitis?

Sleeping with shoulder pain can be quite a challenging process! Ironically, rest and recovery are essential to assist in the healing, so a good night's sleep is vital! It is best to sleep on your non-painful side to avoid unnecessarily compressing the shoulder joint. You may want to put a pillow behind you to prevent you from rolling and changing positions during sleep. If you place a pillow under your affected arm, this will help move it slightly away from your body, putting it in a more comfortable position.

Other articles in category