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Shouldering The Pain: Bursitis

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  • Written By: Steven H. Gausewitz, MD

If you are having pain, loss of strength, or a limited range of motion such as difficulty raising your arm or shoulder, you may be suffering from bursitis. A sac-like membrane (bursa) between the rotator cuff and the shoulder blade cushions and helps lubricate the motion between these two structures. If there is excessive rubbing or squeezing of the rotator cuff and shoulder blade, an inflammation of the bursa may result.

Bursitis is a ‘wear and tear’ injury. Those who are most at risk of developing bursitis in the shoulder include athletes who routinely extend their arm at high speed, weightlifters, and workers whose job entails prolonged extension of the arms overhead, such as painters and window washers. Studies have shown that the incidence of bursitis increases as we age, but anyone can develop the condition.

The first course of treatment for bursitis is rest. Icepacks may also be prescribed, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections and physical therapy. In some cases, a patient may require the temporary use of a sling. After the inflammation subsides, physical therapy will most likely be recommended to help strengthen the shoulder.

If these measures fail to provide relief, surgery may be necessary. The surgical repair can be performed arthroscopically on an outpatient basis. Extensive physical therapy may be required afterward to strengthen the shoulder and restore range of motion.

Bursitis rarely gets better on its own. If you suspect bursitis, be sure you get evaluated as soon as possible; there is no reason you should have to shoulder the pain.