Shoulder Bursitis

So your doctor says you have bursitis of the shoulder.  You have had diffuse shoulder pain episodically over the past year.  Despite never really having any specific “injury” to your shoulder, the pain has been getting progressively worse over the course of the last 6-8 weeks.  You finally decide to go to the doctor because you have been waking up at night in pain and your spouse yelled at you to have it looked at.  Sound familiar?

A routine x-ray of your shoulder found nothing.  Your MD moved your shoulder around a little during a few tests and it reproduced your shoulder’s sharp pain.  Your doctor then likely delivered the news that you have bursitis……now what?

Shoulder bursitis occurs when there is an acute inflammatory reaction of the bursa in your shoulder.  What is a bursa you might ask?  It is a little fluid filled sack whose job is to decrease loading on the rotator cuff tendons.  When there is an interruption of normal shoulder biomechanics, the bursa is subjected to increased stress.  And this is how you can get an acute flare up of the bursa.

Shoulder Bursitis

So how can you fix it?

  • Typically an acute bursitis responds quite well to the use of ice and anti-inflammatories.  Try direct use of ice at the location of pain and consistent use of the anti-inflammatory you trust (ex: Advil, Motrin, Alieve, etc).  This will help to chemically address the acute inflammatory reaction in your shoulder.
  • Rest.  In order to heal an injured tissue you must give it a little break.  Try to avoid the activities that you know will increase your pain for at least a few weeks.  If you don’t, it is like you are picking at a scab.
  • Lastly work on what caused the bursitis in the first place…..poor mechanics of the joint.  At the gym you can work specific muscle groups that optimize shoulder function.  Work your upper back and posture muscles.  Middle and lower traps help to position your shoulder blade during functional arm movements.  Make sure to emphasize these muscles when at the gym.  Rotator cuff muscles help to keep the ball of the socket in the joint.  Specifically target these muscles in order to tighten up the timing around the joint.

Ask your personal trainer for some specific exercises that you can try to target these muscles.  And always follow the golden rule of the shoulder……all exercises must not increase your pain.  And if you haven’t been able to fix your shoulder on your own with all of this work, ask your MD for a prescription for physical therapy and they can likely point you in the right direction.

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Diana grew up in a small suburb north of Boston. She received her clinical doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at Boston University in 2006. Diana started practicing as a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital. While at MGH, she developed a specialty in the evaluation and treatment of complex lumbopelvic dysfunction. Diana is currently practicing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where she is the Orthopedic Clinical Supervisor of the Spine program. She is presently a Boston resident and her interests outside physical therapy include cooking, walking on the Esplanade, and international travel.

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