Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder stiffness or swelling

What is shoulder bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis occurs when there is inflammation of the bursae, which are tiny fluid-filled sacs found between friction-causing joints such as between skin and bones, tendons and bones, and ligaments. 

Bursae act as a cushion to prevent or decrease friction, however injury or overuse can cause it to become inflamed, resulting in bursitis. Bursitis usually occurs at joints that experience repetitive movements such as the shoulder, hip, knee, elbow, and heel.

Bursitis can occur at joints such as the hip, knee, heel, shoulder, or elbow.

There are 3 main types of shoulder bursitis, these are:

  • Chronic: the most common type of shoulder bursitis. Individuals often experience symptoms on and off, however, if left untreated, can lead to shoulder or arm weakness. 
  • Acute: sudden pain in the shoulder during movement or when touched.
  • Infectious: uncommon and the shoulder is warm to the touch, appears red or purple, and swollen. 
shoulder bursitis
Shoulder bursitis causes shoulder pain when it is moved or touched.

What causes shoulder bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis is caused by:

  • Repetitive movement/irritation: causes fluid to build-up overtime resulting in inflammation or chronic bursitis.
  • Injury/trauma: common in athletes and results in acute bursitis.
  • Infection: bursa gets infected with bacteria (e.g., staphylococcus) resulting in infectious bursitis. 

There are some medical conditions that have been known to cause bursitis, these are: gout, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, diabetes, and uraemia or kidney disease.

What are the symptoms of shoulder bursitis?

The symptoms of shoulder bursitis are:

  • Pain or discomfort in the shoulder 
  • Shoulder stiffness or swelling
  • Limited range of motion
  • Pain when lying on the affected side
  • Red or purple appearance 
 shoulder pain
Shoulder pain is the main symptom of shoulder bursitis.
If you notice any of the symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.

Is shoulder bursitis painful?

Yes, shoulder bursitis is usually characterised by pain which can either be continuous or intermittent. Pain can also occur when the shoulder is touched or moved and may even be felt when lying down in bed. 

Who is at risk of shoulder bursitis in Singapore?

Shoulder bursitis can affect anyone but there are several factors that may increase your risk, these are:

  • Athletes/hobbyist: individuals who participate in sports or hobbies with repetitive movements such as golf, tennis, weightlifting, cricket, playing musical instruments, gardening, tiling, etc, are more prone to shoulder bursitis. The repetitive movements can cause strain or stress at the shoulder or other joints. This results in fluid buildup at the bursa, leading to bursitis/inflammation.
  • Age: like many other health conditions, the risk of bursitis increases with age.
  • Medical conditions: kidney disease, diabetes, gout, rheumatoid arthritis increase your risk of bursitis. 
Shoulder bursitis is common in athletes who perform repetitive shoulder movements.

How is shoulder bursitis diagnosed?

Shoulder pain can point to a number of different ailments, hence to properly diagnose shoulder bursitis, you may be required to undergo the following: 

  • Physical examination: the first step of diagnosis will be a physical examination to identify the area of pain and range of motion. 
  • X-ray: an x-ray will be taken of your shoulder to exclude other causes of shoulder pain such as bone spurs or arthritis.
  • Ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): ultrasounds and MRIs will check for the presence of inflammation of the bursa. 
  • Laboratory tests: blood tests or an aspiration of the joint will be conducted to test the fluid for the presence of inflammation or gout. 

What are the treatment options for shoulder bursitis in Singapore?

For most individuals, shoulder bursitis will go away on its own (depending on the cause), however, for individuals who require medical intervention, the following treatment options are available:

  • Medication: shoulder bursitis caused by a bacteria infection will be treated with a course of antibiotics.
  • Bursa/steroid injections: corticosteroid injections are quick-fix solutions that help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain immediately.
  • Oral corticosteroids: like its injection counterpart, these medications help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. However, the effect is not immediate.
  • Physiotherapy: physiotherapy involves gentle and therapeutic exercises that help to improve range of motion and improve strength of weak muscles.
  • Surgery: in rare cases, drainage of the inflamed bursa is necessary for recovery.
Frequently asked questions
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Feeling aches and pains?

Book a consultation with us for a more comprehensive diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan best suited to your needs.

Feeling aches and pains?

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For emergency appointment, please call or Whatsapp us at (65) 8909 8877. We will arrange for a limousine to send you to our clinic.
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