Pain on the outer side of the shoulder is the most common symptom of shoulder bursitis.

Typically, people with shoulder bursitis have some combination of the symptoms listed below.

  • Shoulder pain. Early in the course of bursitis development, patients may feel mild shoulder pain when lifting the arms overhead. This pain may gradually increase over time and eventually pain may be felt even at rest.
  • Pain that is worse after repetitive activity. The pain may intensify after prolonged repetitive shoulder movements, such as painting, throwing a ball, or playing tennis.
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  • Shoulder tenderness. The outer shoulder may be tender and sensitive to pressure. Lying down or putting pressure on the affected side is often uncomfortable.
  • Radiating pain. Initially, the pain is located at the outside of the shoulder at the very top of the arm, but as symptoms progress, the pain may radiate down the outside of the arm (though almost never past the elbow).
  • Muscle weakness. As the condition gets worse, the affected shoulder may become weaker.
  • Pain at extreme range of motion. As symptoms progress it may become difficult to reach behind the back to put on a coat or zip a dress.
  • No swelling. Notable swelling, such as that seen in elbow bursitis or knee bursitis, is possible but often absent. Researchers of one study found patients’ painful shoulders had bursae an average of only 0.5 mm thicker than the bursae in their healthy shoulders.6
  • Fever and shoulder redness and warmth. People with septic shoulder bursitis, in which the bursa is infected, will experience the symptoms listed above and may also feel tired, feverish, and sick and notice warmth and redness at the shoulder. Septic shoulder bursitis is serious and requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent the spread of infection into the bloodstream.

In the absence of a trauma to the shoulder, bursitis symptoms typically have a gradual onset. A sudden onset of symptoms without a clear cause (e.g. a fall or overuse) may merit a call to a health care provider.

References

  1. Tsai YH, Huang TJ, Hsu WH, Huang KC, Li YY, Peng KT, Hsu RW. Detection of subacromial bursa thickening by sonography in shoulder impingement syndrome. Chang Gung Med J. 2007 Mar-Apr;30(2):135-41. PubMed PMID: 17596002.
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