site index  |   clinics  |   physical therapy  |   about  |   glossary  |   search  |   email  |   newsletter |    homepage  |  


Shoulder Bursitis

Disease Process

Shoulder Bursitis is characterized by inflammation in the shoulder joint, specifically in the bursa (fluid filled sacs that act as a cushion or shock absorber between tendons, bone and skin). Shoulder bursitis is also sometimes called impingement syndrome. Gradual changes in posture cause incorrect alignment of the shoulder joint which leads to wear and tear on the tendons and bursa by pinching (or impinging) them between the boney structures. This wear and tear causes inflammation (swelling) and pain and can lead to loss of motion and weakness.


  • Repetitive motions, especially those overhead (such as throwing, swimming, painting and carpentry)
  • Traumatic injury such as a fall
  • Dislocation of the shoulder
  • Arthritis (bone spurs place excess pressure on the bursa)
  • Infection


  • Pain in shoulder that is present both with activity and with rest
  • Pain with overhead activities
  • Decrease in the range of motion (ROM) in the shoulder
  • Pain while sleeping at night
  • Loss of strength in the shoulder
  • Pain over the outside of the shoulder and upper arm
  • Noticeable swelling in the front of the shoulder


  • Review of medical history
  • Physical Examination
  • X-rays
  • Possibly and MRI if symptoms do not improve

Current Treatment

  • Rest
    • Allowing the shoulder to rest by not performing the activities that are contributing to the problem (such as overhead lifting or reaching) will allow the bursa time to heal
  • Medication
  • Ice
    • Ice can help decrease pain and swelling (use 15 minutes at a time to the painful / swollen area).
  • Physical Therapy

How Can Physical Therapy Help

Physical Therapy is often very useful for shoulder bursitis. Commonly, a patient will visit their Primary Care Physician complaining of shoulder pain and will be referred to a PT. They can confirm the diagnosis of shoulder bursitis by completing a detailed history of the problem, along with a thorough evaluation of the shoulder joint (motion, strength, pain, sensation, joint mobility). Once the evaluation is complete and treatment is initiated, it will usually consist of the following:

  • Behavior Modification:
    • Instructions will be given on how to change activities to limit more trauma to the area.
  • Postural Modification:
    • Poor posture is often associated with bursitis. Improper posture causes mal-alignment of the shoulder joint and contributes to impingement. Instructions will be given on how to correct posture.
  • Therapeutic Exercise:
    • In order to correct posture and regain strength and motion in the shoulder joint, it is necessary to perform specific exercises that will target these areas.
  • Modalities:
    • A physical therapist will use many modalities (or pieces of equipment) in the clinic to help relieve inflammation and pain. You can expect to receive and or all of the following:
  • Manual Techniques:

Patient Resources
AAOS (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons)

Disease Process
Physical Therapy
Patient Resources


Shoulder bursitis is NOT the same as a rotator cuff tear.

Left untreated, bursitis can lead to a "frozen shoulder" (adhesive capsulitis)

Megan Hubbard, DPT © 2005   |  disclaimer