The shoulder joint is a marvel of form and function—and a common cause of pain. The shoulder’s design allows it to rotate a full 360 degrees, but this wide range of mobility also can make it prone to problems.

Two common shoulder problems are arthritis and bursitis. Find out the major signs and symptoms of each condition and what to do if you suspect you may have one.


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 has built gradually. The pain may come and go, getting worse over months and years.
  • Pain that is worse with inactivity, such as pain that is most noticeable right after getting up in the morning or with your first movements of the day.
  • Loss of range of motion. For example, you may not be able to 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).

While there is no cure for shoulder osteoarthritis, there are many treatments to help slow down its progression and reduce pain.

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Treatment and Acromioclavicular Osteoarthritis Treatment

Signs of shoulder bursitis

Bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed. A bursa is a tiny, fluid-filled sac, made up of a thin outer membrane filled with fluid. One of the largest bursa in the body is located near the very top of the arm, at the outside of the shoulder joint. This bursa is meant to reduce friction between part of the shoulder blade bone and the rotator cuff and other soft tissues that rub against it.

See What Is Shoulder (Subacromial) Bursitis?

If this bursa becomes inflamed, it is called shoulder bursitis. Potential symptoms include:

  • 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.

Shoulder bursitis is often accompanied by shoulder impingement syndrome or other shoulder problems. The shoulder’s muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bursae are packed closely together, and their health is interdependent. If part of the shoulder becomes injured, other parts are likely to become damaged, too.

See Shoulder Bursitis Symptoms


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 (for example, a dull ache versus throbbing), and what you were doing when the pain started.

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Diagnosis and Shoulder Bursitis Diagnosis

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

Learn more:

Shoulder Bursitis Treatment

Shoulder Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Dr. Brian Lee is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the treatment of elbow and shoulder conditions at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute at Cedars Sinai. Dr. Lee has authored research papers, abstracts, and book chapters in the field of shoulder and elbow surgery.