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Bursitis Shoulder Symptoms

author image Tricia Mangan
Based in New York City, Tricia Mangan began her writing career in 2001. She has co-authored a National Cancer Institute report and a number of research articles that have appeared in medical journals. Tricia holds a Master of Arts in clinical psychology from Stony Brook University and boasts diverse clinical, research and teaching experience.
Bursitis Shoulder Symptoms
Shoulder pain could be due to inflammation. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Shoulder bursitis is a condition caused by inflammation of a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the bones and tendons in your shoulder. This condition is often caused by sports, or occupational and accident-related injuries. It also becomes more common with increased age. While symptoms of shoulder bursitis usually begin as mild pain or loss of strength, the condition can become severe without temporary lifestyle modifications or other treatment.

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Shoulder bursitis can cause pain that is present at rest and with certain movements or activities. Pain can occur when the arm is lifted or lowered from an elevated position, and may come on suddenly when lifting or reaching for an object. Raising the arm over the head can cause pain. Athletes involved in sports such as tennis, basketball, or baseball might find it painful to throw, shoot or serve a tennis ball. Those involved in occupations such as painting or carpentry that involve a lot of overhead movement, reaching and lifting might also be susceptible to frequent pain. In some cases, the pain can radiate from the front of the shoulder down the side of the arm. When shoulder bursitis worsens, you may have pain at rest or during the night while you sleep. Pain might become severe enough to waken you from sleep, particularly if you turn over onto the affected shoulder.


Shoulder bursitis is characterized by inflammation of the bursa and the tendons in the shoulder area. As these structures swell, they thicken and take up more space in the shoulder area. Increased pressure on the tendons in your shoulder cause further inflammation. You might experience localized swelling and tenderness in the front or outer side of the shoulder, and it may be warm to the touch.

Loss of Strength and Motion

Shoulder bursitis can cause a loss of strength and motion, making it difficult to move your arm and shoulder. You might also find that your upper arm and shoulder are weaker than normal, making it hard to lift, push or pull. It may be especially difficult to perform activities that require placing your arm behind your back, such as zipping up a back zipper or even scratching your back. Severe cases of shoulder bursitis can lead to frozen shoulder -- a condition that limits shoulder movement in every direction.

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