Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

Steps For Treatment of Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is the most common cause of shoulder pain.  Often called rotator cuff tendonitis, or impingement syndrome, this condition is characterized by inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and the bursa that surrounds the tendons.  Typical symptoms of shoulder bursitis include pain with certain movements of the shoulder, aching at night that can awaken you from sleep, and discomfort that can extend down the outer side of the arm.  The good news is, with some simple treatment steps, most all people with shoulder bursitis can find relief with non-surgical treatments.  Here are the most common treatments used for shoulder bursitis:

Rest

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The first step of shoulder bursitis treatment is to decrease the inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and their surrounding bursa.. This is best done by avoiding the problems that cause inflammation. The best rule of thumb to follow: 'If it causes pain, don't do it!' This includes simple activities such as lifting heavy objects or reaching high above your head or behind yourself.  Many people with shoulder bursitis complain of pain when sleeping--trying to keep your arm by your side rather than behind your head can help alleviate night pain.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

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Inflammation can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications such as Motrin, Advil, Aleve, or one of many others. All of these medications belong to the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs. Taken by mouth, NSAIDs help with the inflammation of the tendons and bursa, and also help reduce the discomfort caused by the inflammation.  As with any medication, there are possible side-effects of these drugs, and you should discuss with your doctor if these are safe for you to take.

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Ice & Heat Application

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Ice is a helpful treatment for any condition caused by inflammation.  Typically, ice application is most helpful in the early stages of the condition, or if the bursitis is particularly flared up.  Ice can also help to alleviate pain.

Heat is more typically used for treatment to help loosen or soothe a sore shoulder.  Heat may be helpful particularly before activity to ensure the shoulder tendons are warm and loose.

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Physical Therapy & Shoulder Exercises

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Some simple exercises and physical therapy may help you return to normal activities without pain. These exercises help to strengthen the rotator cuff and help the shoulder move more efficiently.  Improving the mechanics of the shoulder is not as simple as just being strong--keep in mind, even professional athletes do physical therapy to improve joint mechanics when they have injuries.

In addition, it is important to avoid activities that irritate the rotator cuff tendons. These include:

  • Overhead weight lifting (such as military press, etc)
  • Throwing activities
  • Sleeping with the arm over or behind your head

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Cortisone Injection

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If the symptoms are not adequately treated, the next step is usually a cortisone injection, or steroid shot, into the area of inflammation. If the symptoms are significant, your doctor may opt to perform this cortisone injection on an initial visit. The cortisone injection places medication to treat the inflammation directly in the problem area.

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Surgery

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Patients with shoulder bursitis almost always respond to non-surgical treatments. Usually these treatments begin to work quickly with resolution of symptoms over a period of one to three months. In some individuals who don't respond to simple treatments, surgery may end up being a necessary step. 

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery does have possible complications, and for that reason every effort should be made to exhaust non-surgical treatment before more invasive treatments are considered.

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Treatment of Shoulder Bursitis is Effective

Typical treatment of shoulder bursitis can be accomplished with non-surgical treatments, and is effective. Most people who struggle with treatment either fail to put in the time and effort to restore normal shoulder function or don't adequately avoid the aggravating activities that caused the bursitis. In unusual circumstances, less than 10% of patients, surgery may be considered. However, shoulder surgery does have possible complications, and non-surgical treatment should always be attempted before invasive treatments are pursued.

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