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November 23, 2019

How to Find Relief for Bursitis of the Shoulder?

Last updated on December 21, 2022

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Bursitis of the shoulder is a common condition where fluid sacs located between bones, muscles, and tendons get inflamed. It can easily be treated by rest and exercise within months. Still, severe conditions may entail a surgery or taking antibiotics.

Bones serve as the inner frame of the body that holds and supports its shape. Most of it is linked firmly by joints that allow a wide range of body movements. Moving bones connected by joints cause friction, and overuse can trigger inflammation or infection that may lead to bursitis.

Some people are more prone to shoulder bursitis because they use their shoulders more often. Athletes, gardeners, carpenters, and even musicians have high risks of developing this.

What is bursitis of the shoulder?

Shoulder bursitis is a painful inflammation of the shoulder bursa. The shoulder bursa becomes enlarged and inflamed due to injury or overworked shoulder joint. This inflammation can also be an effect of direct injury or trauma and prolonged pressure. For example, you may be at risk if you have repetitive strain from improper lifting or direct bow to the shoulder like falling or tripping. An infection, arthritis, gout, thyroid disease, or diabetes can also cause bursitis.

The bursa is shock-absorbing cartilage disks or fluid sacs that reduce wear and tear on joints. It is a small fluid-filled sac that serves as a cushion between bones and tendons or muscles around a joint that minimizes friction in between. 

People engaged in activities such as carpentry, gardening, playing a musical instrument, or playing a sport have a higher risk of developing bursitis that may require repetitive motions or place stress on your joints.

Shoulder bursitis signs and symptoms

If you have bursitis of the shoulder, you may have the following signs and symptoms:

  1. Pain felt at the tip or outside the shoulder
  2. Swollen or red joint
  3. Stiff shoulder
  4. Pain that may extend down to the arm, elbow, and wrist
  5. Pain is aggravated when the affected shoulder is pressed
  6. Pain is exacerbated when the arm is raised above head

You need to seek a doctor’s help if the symptoms mentioned above are accompanied by a fever, that may indicate septic bursitis or infected bursa. Observe other septic bursitis symptoms such as disabling joint pain, non-movement of joint, excessive swelling or rash in the affected area, and extreme pain when force is exerted.

A doctor will be able to diagnose shoulder bursitis by using a series of manual tests. The doctor may recommend an MRI scan, which can be helpful or an ultrasound scan, which is commonly used to detect bursitis. 

Diagnosis, exams, and tests

The doctor will ask to describe how the pain severity varies throughout the day. The physician will also ask about medical history and examine the current condition. Also, the doctor will investigate what aggravates or relieves the pain to determine if bursitis is causing the pain.

Manual or physical examinations may be performed to see whether tendons, other parts of your joints are inflamed. Laboratory tests such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and x-rays can show whether the tendons or bursae are inflamed. The doctor may also remove and test fluid from the bursa to rule out infection.

Shoulder bursitis Common Treatment

Bursitis of the shoulder can be treated at home or with professional help from a doctor. These treatments listed below are some best practices that we have found, however, please consult a medical professional before you try any of these. Treatment of bursitis includes pain medicines intake, rest, or ice. The doctor may inject a drug around the swollen bursa if there is no improvement. If the joint is still not healed after 6 to 12 months, surgery will be done to relieve pressure and repair the damage on the bursa.

Though bursitis is just a temporary condition, the doctors can recommend ways to reduce the inflammation and to prevent recurrence and disability. If not treated, bursitis can lead to permanent joint damage or disability. Patients will be referred to specialists like an orthopedic surgeon, rheumatologist, or a physical therapist for specialized treatment.

A cold compress is usually most active during the first 48 hours after injury, inflammation, or overuse. Cover the injured area with a towel and place ice on it for 15 to 20 minutes at 4 to 6-hour intervals. Frostbite may occur if the ice is placed for too long.  For chronic pain, a warm compress may be more helpful than cold compresses.

Resting the injured area or limiting shoulder activity for a while will help reduce further injury. Shoulder braces, splints, or slings allow a particular area to relax. It is recommended that when sleeping, do not lie on the side that has bursitis.

Gentle shoulder exercises and stretching, as recommended by a doctor, can also stop the shoulder joint from becoming stiff. The doctor or the physiotherapist may recommend some of these rehabilitation exercises:

Posterior stretching exercise

While sitting or standing, hold the elbow of the injured shoulder slowly with the other hand.

Pull the arm of the affected shoulder with your hand and put it across your body. Feeling a gentle stretch across the back of the shoulder.

Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and gradually lower the arm.

Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Wall push-ups

Stand facing a wall about 14 to 18 inches away.

Put your hands on the wall at shoulder height.

Bend elbows slowly and bring the face to the wall. Keep your back and hips straight and push back to where you started.

Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Shoulder blade squeeze

Stand up straight and place arms at the sides, and crunch your shoulder blades together. Do not raise your shoulders up as you squeeze.

Hold for six seconds.

Repeat eight to 12 times.

Medication options for bursitis

Taking over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory medicines relieve inflammation and pain. The doctor may give anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen.  Doctors may prescribe a stronger version of the medicine if the condition is severe.

If symptoms persist, corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs directly injected into the affected bursa by the doctor. 

Surgery may be suggested as the final option if bursitis of the shoulder does not respond to treatment after 6 to 12 months. Surgery can reduce the pressure in the bursa and repair damage.

How to get this condition service connected?

Now that you know what bursitis is and what exercises you can do to help with the pain, you need to get it service-connected with the VA!

First, gather your relevant medical evidence. This will be crucial to hand over to the VA for your claim. The relevant medical evidence includes military medical records, any civilian service-records for the condition, lay evidence including buddy letters and personal statements. The more evidence you have the more favor will be shown in your direction. 

After doing this, get relevant DBQs and Nexus letters for your condition. These are done to connect your condition to your time in service and prove that necessary link.

Want to get this process done correctly the first time? Coaching you through filing your claim and getting relevant medical evidence is our specialty. The link to get access to $7,500+ worth of information IMMEDIATELY is here! 

About the Author

About VA Claims Insider

VA Claims Insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible independent medical opinions and nexus statements (medical nexus letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.

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