How Do I Get Rid of Bursitis in My Shoulder?

Reviewed on 4/29/2022
Man looking at his shoulder in pain from bursitis
Bursitis treatments include the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, physical therapy, treating infection, and surgery (rarely).

Shoulder bursitis (impingement syndrome) is inflammation or irritation of the shoulder bursae (plural of “bursa”), which are fluid-filled sacs around joints and tendons in the shoulder that function to reduce friction from movement and to provide cushioning between bones, tendons, muscles, and skin.

  • Bursitis can involve nearly any joint in the body, but some joints, such as the shoulder, are affected more often than others. 
  • The best way to get rid of bursitis in the shoulder involves rest and protecting the shoulder joint, relieving inflammation and pain, treating any infection, preserving range of motion, avoiding complications, and preventing recurrence.

9 Bursitis Treatments & Remedies

Lifestyle modifications to treat protect the shoulder joint includes: 

  • The RICE method:
    • Rest
    • Ice the affected area
    • Compression with a compression bandage or stocking
    • Elevation of affected area
  • Heat (e.g., a heating pad) 
  • Avoid or modify activities that cause pain such as reaching or stretching
  • Use a sling to limit movement of the shoulder joint

Medications used to treat shoulder bursitis include: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation
  • Steroid injections for pain and inflammation 
    • Used when the affected area is deep under the skin but not for superficial types of bursitis
    • Only provides short-term pain relief for several weeks

Other measures to treat shoulder bursitis include: 

  • Physical therapy
    • Exercises depend on the type and severity of shoulder bursitis but may include: 
      • Stretching
      • Strengthening
      • Range of motion
  • Treating infection
    • Septic bursitis is a serious condition that needs to be treated right away with antibiotics and draining infected fluid from the bursa
  • Surgery
    • Rarely, surgery is performed to remove all or part of the affected bursa (bursectomy)

What Are Symptoms of Shoulder Bursitis?

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis can come on rapidly (acute) or develop slowly over time (chronic). 

Symptoms of shoulder bursitis include: 

  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Pain when moving or bending the shoulder joint 
  • Limited range of motion of the shoulder and deterioration of muscles due to pain in chronic bursitis 
  • Visible swelling, redness, and warmth of the shoulder area
  • If an infection is present (“septic bursitis”) symptoms may include: 
    • Pain, swelling, warmth, and redness around the shoulder joint
    • Fever 

What Causes Shoulder Bursitis?

Training or overuse from repetitive motion is the most common cause of chronic shoulder bursitis.

Causes of acute shoulder bursitis include:

  • Infection from bacteria entering the body through a cut or scrape in the skin
  • Shoulder injury, such as from a fall or hit
    • People who take anticoagulants (blood thinners) are at increased risk 
  • Certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis
  • Gout or other crystal diseases
  • Tendonitis
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease

How Is Shoulder Bursitis Diagnosed?

Shoulder bursitis is diagnosed with a physical examination, a patient history of symptoms, and sometimes tests.

Tests to determine the cause of the shoulder bursitis include: 

  • Imaging tests to rule out other problems, such as tears in cartilage or ligaments
  • If infection or crystal disease (for example, gout) is suspected, fluid is removed from the affected bursa using a syringe (aspiration) to be examined under a microscope  
  • Blood tests to rule out other conditions
Reviewed on 4/29/2022
Image Source: iStock Images