The human shoulder is one of the body’s most sophisticated compound joints with a wide range of motion and an even wider range of functions. It includes a series of muscles, bones, connective tissues, and other structures that help maintain a healthy fluidic range of motion. When any one of these things is compromised by injury or inflammation it can have a profound effect on your quality of life. This is especially true of the Bursa Sac in each of your shoulders.
The bursa is essentially a very small fluid-filled sac that helps to reduce the friction between the bones in your shoulder joint. Any time the bursa in your shoulder is inflamed, swollen, or compromised, it leads to a condition known as shoulder bursitis.
Common Symptoms Of Bursitis
Several different things can cause, contribute to, or worsen symptoms of bursitis. This includes:
- Overuse from certain vocations or exercises such as weight lifting
- Sports injuries
- Accidental falls on the shoulder
- Joint inflammation
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Rotator cuff injuries & inflammation
What Are The Common Symptoms Of Bursitis?
The bursa structure inside the shoulder essentially acts as a cushion for the rotator cuff. Symptoms of bursitis often occur with rotator cuff injuries or can be confused as rotator cuff injury. Especially since many of the motions of the rotator cuff also cause discomfort for bursitis sufferers.
With that in mind, the following are common symptoms reported by bursitis sufferers.
Persistent discomfort when laying on the affected shoulder
- Chronic pain on the outside of the shoulder
- Chronic pain on the top of your shoulder
- Pain that worsens when you lift your arm out to the side
- Pain when pushing on or opening a door
- Pain and stiffness when trying to move your arm in a circular motion
- Pain and a sensation of pressure when pushing on the top of your shoulder
Occupations & Lifestyle Factors That Increase The Risk Of Bursitis
There are several occupations, hobbies, and lifestyle habits that can put an individual at higher risk for developing bursitis. This includes:
- Construction workers
- Professional painters
- Amateur & professional athletes
- Weight lifters and bodybuilders
How Is Bursitis Treated?
Since most bursitis symptoms are related to inflammation, rest is often sufficient for treating bursitis. Your physician might also recommend taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. This includes things like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen to help relieve the pain.
Ice packs and cold compresses can also help reduce bursitis pain. If you don’t have a reusable first-aid cold compress, you can improvise one with a bag of ice. Just make sure to put another layer like a washcloth between the cold pack and your skin. You can then wear the cold compress on the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
In some cases, where you need to return to light-duty work, your physician might provide you with a shoulder brace. Not only do they help to stabilize the shoulder, but it also serves as an active reminder to take it easy as you go through your day.
At-Home Stretching Exercises For Bursitis
While rest and light-duty are good ideas for reducing bursitis discomfort there are also some basic stretches and at-home exercises you can do to help reduce bursitis discomfort. When performing them, it’s important to not stretch beyond reason and not to stretch to the point of feeling pain and discomfort.
The Posterior Stretch
This simple stretching exercise can be performed while you are sitting or standing. You start by bringing your arm across your body. Then place your hand on the back of the opposite shoulder. At that point, you use your other hand to press on the back of the elbow which stretches the shoulder muscles and connective tissues around the bursa.
You should try to hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Then repeat in sets of three.
If you have been experiencing bursitis in both of your shoulders, you can then repeat this stretch with the other shoulder or alternate between the two shoulders.
The Shoulder Blade Squeeze
This stretching exercise can be performed while standing, though it’s probably easier to do sitting. You simply straight the pull your shoulder blades back as if you are trying to get the scapula bone to touch. Hold for 5 to 7 seconds. Then repeat 5 to 10 times.
Shoulder Blade Range Of Motion Exercise
This exercise helps improve the overall range of motion of the shoulders, especially in the shoulder blade area. It starts by lifting your shoulders as if to shrug them. Then hold the position for 5 to 7 seconds before lowering your shoulders. Then move your shoulders down and hold for 5 to 7 seconds. Then rotate your shoulders in a circular motion for 5 full circles.
When To See A Doctor For Bursitis
If your pain is significant to the point it’s affecting your daily activities, making it impossible to do your job or making it impossible to sleep at all on the affected shoulder, you should contact your physician.
Your doctor will likely start with a mechanical examination to assess the range of motion and your discomfort level. If they are concerned about the bursa being severely damaged or that other structures in the shoulder have been compromised they might refer you for an X-ray, an MRI, or another type of imaging.
For a moderate case of bursitis, your physician might advocate a treatment plan that involves a corticosteroid injection combined with pain medications and physical therapy. Though corticosteroid injections do come with the slight risk of weakening the connective tissues and tendons surrounding the bursa. So this is a limited treatment.
Surgery For Bursitis
In a severe case of bursitis, your physician might recommend surgical intervention. Though this is only a course of treatment meant for severe cases, and those that have not found relief via more conventional means.
This is an arthroscopic procedure where the physician makes small incisions in your skin before inserting special surgical instruments to remove damaged tissue that may be the underlying cause of bursa irritation.
In a rare, severe case the physician may need to remove the entire bursa or what remains of a badly ruptured bursa sac to provide your space for the localized connective tissues and tendons.