Subacromial bursitis is an inflammation that causes intense shoulder pain which worsens when moving the arm.
What is Subacromial Bursitis?
What Causes It?
Subacromial bursitis occurs when the small fluid-filled cushions (bursa) that sit between the shoulder bones, muscles and tendons swell and become inflamed. The inflammation can happen suddenly due to a shoulder injury or gradually due to overuse of the shoulder muscles.
People at risk of subacromial bursitis include:
Jobs Involving Repeated Overhead Lifting Or Forceful Pulling.
Sports Involving Repeated Throwing, Pitching Or Swinging.
Here are some common signs that can point to subacromial bursa:
- Pain in the shoulder
- Shoulder stiffness
- Pain spreading down the arm towards the elbow or wrist
- Worse pain when reaching behind the head (washing hair) or lifting the arm above the shoulder (reaching for a shelf, swimming).
- Pain when lying on the shoulder
- Redness or warmth on the shoulder
How is it diagnosed?
- Several questions will be asked about the shoulder pain (location, intensity, aggravators/relievers)
- A physiotherapist will do a few simple tests to see the strength and movement of the shoulder joint.
While the above steps can quickly diagnose subacromial bursitis, ultrasound or x-ray scanning may be performed to confirm.
Common Types of Bursitis
- Inflammatory Bursitis Is When The Shoulder Cushion Becomes Inflamed Due To Overuse.
- Calcified Bursitis Is When Bone Forms In The Shoulder Cushion Due To Chronic Or Recurrent Bursitis.
- Septic Bursitis Is When There Is An Infection In The Shoulder Cushions.
Tips and tricks for managing daily activities
- First 1-2 weeks: avoid using the sore arm. Continue to use the opposite arms without increasing the pain.
- After 1-2 weeks: Start to use both arms without increasing the pain.
- Avoid activities that make the pain worse.
- Keep regularly used items at home or work below shoulder height.
- Sleep on the opposite shoulder.
- Steroid injection
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Education to manage pain and inflammation
- Simple exercises (stretches, strengthening) to avoid permanent stiffness and weakness
How long until I get better?
The time of treatment may vary from patient to patient, but in most cases, the symptoms improve within a few months of treatment. Getting early treatment means you can avoid long-term joint problems.
Take home message
- Subacromial bursitis is an inflammation that causes shoulder pain, usually gradually.
- At first, give time for the swelling and inflammation to go down before using the sore arm.
- Good posture can help to relieve symptoms.
- A physiotherapist can give exercises that will help with the symptoms and prevent permanent weakness and stiffness.
- Early treatment means permanent damage to the joint can be avoided.