Got Shoulder Bursitis Pain? Try These PT-Recommended Exercises and Treatments

Pain from shoulder bursitis can get in the way of your usual activities, but some simple shoulder exercises can help you get relief.

Published Date: Sep 14, 2023
older-man-holding-his-shoulder-in-pain-sitting-in-couch-at-home

Got Shoulder Bursitis Pain? Try These PT-Recommended Exercises and Treatments

Pain from shoulder bursitis can get in the way of your usual activities, but some simple shoulder exercises can help you get relief.

Published Date: Sep 14, 2023
older-man-holding-his-shoulder-in-pain-sitting-in-couch-at-home

Got Shoulder Bursitis Pain? Try These PT-Recommended Exercises and Treatments

Pain from shoulder bursitis can get in the way of your usual activities, but some simple shoulder exercises can help you get relief.

Published Date: Sep 14, 2023
older-man-holding-his-shoulder-in-pain-sitting-in-couch-at-home

Got Shoulder Bursitis Pain? Try These PT-Recommended Exercises and Treatments

Pain from shoulder bursitis can get in the way of your usual activities, but some simple shoulder exercises can help you get relief.

Published Date: Sep 14, 2023
older-man-holding-his-shoulder-in-pain-sitting-in-couch-at-home
Table of Contents

Your shoulders, well, shoulder a lot. They allow you to do laps in the pool, play catch with your kid, put groceries on the top pantry shelf, and wash your hair. So if you’ve been experiencing pain from shoulder bursitis, your tendency may be to minimize using your affected arm and shoulder altogether. 

But that’s a mistake, says Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with Hinge Health. “Shoulder bursitis is usually caused by inflammation in the joint, and keeping your shoulder active is helpful for recovery.” 

Here’s some expert advice on how to recognize and recover from shoulder bursitis, so you can get back to the activities you love again.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Caitlin Shaw, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Shaw is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified sports clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Bursitis of the Shoulder?

Shoulder bursitis is when one or more of your bursae — the fluid-filled sacs located in the region  of your shoulder — become inflamed. You have bursae in many other body parts, too, like your knees and hips. In this case, the bursae that cushion the space between your rotator cuff muscles and shoulder blades don’t allow the tendons to glide as smoothly, which causes pain. 

“Shoulder bursitis can be associated with changes in the joint such as impingement, rotator cuff strain, or even arthritis,” explains Dr. Shaw. “A lot of times, if you temporarily rest the area or take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, the symptoms will go away. But they’ll keep cropping back if you don’t treat the root cause.” 

Shoulder Bursitis: A Hinge Health Perspective

Learning about conditions that cause shoulder pain can be alarming. We know from Hinge Health members and research studies that anatomical labels like these can backfire when it comes to your treatment and recovery. When people hear they may have a condition like bursitis or impingement, it may cause feelings of panic, like you have something "wrong" with your shoulder that needs to be fixed. This way of thinking about pain is largely outdated, says Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT. 

The fact is that experts say pain is more complex than simply what may or may not be happening in your shoulder joint. Other factors, like life stressors, can also play a big role in how you experience pain. And for most common musculoskeletal conditions, regardless of what may or may not be contributing to pain in your tissues, the solution is often the same. Movement — through physical and exercise therapy — builds strength and flexibility and resilience to pain. “That's why Hinge Health physical therapists and doctors focus on helping members get moving with exercise therapy,” says Peterson.

And that often means doing exercises to keep your shoulder moving. (More on that in a moment).

Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms

When you feel shoulder pain, it can be hard to tell what it’s from. Here are some clues that you may have shoulder bursitis symptoms:

  • You feel pain on the outer side or tip of your shoulder.

  • You notice pain when you push your finger on your shoulder tip.

  • Your shoulder feels worse when you lie on it.

  • Your shoulder hurts when you lift your arm to the side or rotate it.

  • You experience pain when you push or pull to open a door.

“Patients often also describe it as feeling like they have fluid that’s built up in their shoulder joint,” adds Dr. Shaw. “They typically don’t, but the inflammation of the bursa can cause a full feeling in their shoulder.”

What Causes Shoulder Bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is almost always the result of repeated stress over time — meaning more than your body is used to tolerating, says Dr. Shaw. “For instance, if you do a lot more overhead activities than usual for days or weeks, it may irritate the bursae.” 

This doesn't mean that doing repetitive activities is bad for you. It may simply mean that you would benefit from incorporating strengthening and stretching exercises into your routine so your body is more resilient to repetitive motions. Some causes of shoulder bursitis causes are:

  • Shoulder impingement syndrome. It occurs when the bursae and/or rotator cuff between the top outer edge of your shoulder blade and upper arm become irritated, usually with overhead motions.

  • Rotator cuff strain, which can make your arm feel weak and cause a dull ache deep in the joint socket.

  • Shoulder osteoarthritis, which happens when the cartilage and other tissues around the joint break down and create pain and a loss in mobility.   

Regardless of what issues may be contributing to shoulder bursitis, the treatment is the same: “It’s important to focus on training your muscles on how to move to prevent this type of inflammation or irritation,” explains Dr. Shaw.

At-Home Treatment Options and Tips

If you have a flare-up of shoulder bursitis, try moving in different ways that give your tissues a break while they heal. You can adjust the intensity, duration, or how often you are active based on what feels good to you. Dr. Shaw recommends:

  • Ice. A cold gel pack, bag of ice, or even a bag of frozen vegetables will help relieve inflammation. Try it for 20 minutes, several times a day.

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines Over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for shoulder pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

  • Gentle movement. “You want to avoid ‘fear-of-doing-everything-and-anything syndrome,’” says Dr. Shaw. Try doing a few gentle shoulder stretches several times a day. Whatever feels good. It may seem a little counterintuitive, but moving is what can move you forward.

  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy is considered first line treatment for shoulder bursitis, according to a 2020 review of 16 studies published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy. It can help you increase your shoulder’s range of motion and muscle strength while allowing you to remain active while you heal.  A physical therapist can guide you on exercises that will help increase your range of motion and strengthen your shoulder muscles — and show you ways to move that won’t aggravate your bursitis. “The goal is for you to get back to activities that you love, without triggering inflammation,” says Dr. Shaw. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Most of the time, shoulder bursitis will get better with the above strategies within a couple of weeks. But if you’re still feeling pain or discomfort — and especially if you also have fever, chills, or significant swelling — it could be something more serious that you should contact your doctor about right away.

Exercises for Shoulder Bursitis

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  • Cross Arm Stretch
  • Doorway Stretch
  • Shoulder Rows
  • Resisted Shoulder Internal Rotations
  • Resisted Shoulder External Rotations
  • Seated Overhead Push

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The exercises above are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists to help restore shoulder strength and range of motion.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Take Movement Breaks at Your Computer

A lot of people tend to slouch when they sit looking at their laptops, phones, and other devices. Seriously, so many of us do it! For some people, this can strain your shoulders and contribute to bursitis. At Hinge Health, we like to emphasize that there's no such thing as perfect posture or sitting position. Your best bet is taking frequent breaks to move around and change your position, which keeps your body from feeling stiff. Taking breaks (especially to do some of the movements above) can help keep your shoulders mobile and healthy, which can prevent irritation and strain.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Faruqi, T., Rizvi, T. (2023, June 26). Subacromial Bursitis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541096/

  2. Hesse, E. M., Navarro, A. R., Daley, M. F., Getahun, D., Henniger, M. L., Jackson, L. A., Nordin, J., Olson, S. C., Zerbo, O., Zheng, C., Duffy, J. (2020). Risk for Subdeltoid Bursitis After Influenza Vaccination. Annals of Internal Medicine. doi:10.7326/M19-3176

  3. Pieters, L., Lewis, J., Kuppens, K., Jochems, J., Bruijstens, T., Joossens, L., Struyf, F. (2020). An Update of Systematic Reviews Examining the Effectiveness of Conservative Physical Therapy Interventions for Subacromial Shoulder Pain. Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.8498

  4. Bursitis. (2022, August 25). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bursitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353242