The shoulder joint is a marvel of form and function—it is the only joint in the body designed to rotate a full 360 degrees. But this wide range of mobility also can make it prone to degeneration and injury.

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Woman with shoulder pain Shoulder pain that's worse after repetitive activity may indicate it's caused by bursitis.
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Shoulder Bursitis Causes

When your shoulder is in pain, how do you know whether it's a degenerative form of arthritis or a more transient issue, like bursitis?

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It helps to know the major signs and symptoms of each and what to do if you suspect you may have one of these conditions.

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Symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis

There are two main types of shoulder osteoarthritis: glenohumeral arthritis and acromioclavicular arthritis. For both types, your symptoms will typically include some combination of these symptoms:

  • Pain that is worse with inactivity, such as pain that is most acute right after getting up in the morning or with your first movements of the day.
  • Pain that builds gradually—over months or even years—and gets worse in the long run.
  • Loss of range of motion. For example, you can't raise your arm over your head to put on a shirt.
  • Pain that gets worse with certain activities, such as lifting a bag of groceries (which is common with glenohumeral arthritis) or reaching across your body to buckle your seat belt (which occurs with acromioclavicular arthritis).

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Acromioclavicular Arthritis Symptoms

Signs of shoulder bursitis

Bursitis occurs when the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that protects the outside of the shoulder joint, becomes inflamed.

See What Is Shoulder (Subacromial) Bursitis?

When shoulder bursitis develops, it can cause symptoms such as these:

  • Shoulder pain that gradually gets worse or pain that is triggered by movement, such as lifting your arm above your head. This is similar to osteoarthritis.
  • Pain and tenderness on the top and outside of the shoulder. This is where the bursa is located. This pain can be triggered when you put pressure on this spot, such as when you lie down on your side.
  • Pain that is more acute with repetitive motion. This is unlike osteoarthritis, in which the pain is worse after inactivity. In fact, repetitive motion can trigger bursitis. People who are prone to bursitis include painters, wallpaper hangers, tennis players, swimmers, and baseball pitchers.

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Talk with your doctor

If you have any ongoing symptoms of shoulder pain, it's important to share them with your doctor so you can get the right diagnosis. Share with him or her as many details as you can about your symptoms, including when and how long they occur, what the pain feels like (throbbing vs. stabbing), and what you were doing when the pain started.

See Shoulder Bursitis Diagnosis

There are treatment options for shoulder both arthritis and bursitis, so relief may be as close as a visit with your doctor.

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Treatment and Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

Learn more:

Acromioclavicular Osteoarthritis Causes

Shoulder Exercises for Arthritis