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Subacromial bursitis – what is it and how can physiotherapy help

Subacromial bursitis – what is it and how can physiotherapy help


A bursa is a sac of fluid that prevents friction between tendons and bone. The most common jured bursa tens to be the subacromial bursa in the shoulder, even though you have many subacromial bursitis in your body.

A bursitis is when a bursa becomes inflamed. In addition, when the bursa is inflamed, it tends to swell and become impinged between the rotator cuff tendons and the acromion of the scapula.

However, shoulder pain due to subacromial bursitis may come on suddenly, or over a period of a few months, depending on the cause of injury.

The main causes for the development of shoulder bursitis are:

  • repetitive or prolonged overhead activity
  • repetitive or prolonged use of the arm in front of the body
  • activities involving rotation of the shoulder
  • lifting overhead
  • trauma from falling on the shoulder

In addition, individuals who have an unstable shoulder due to previous injury, or existing rotator cuff weakness causing poor shoulder biomechanics, are more prone to developing shoulder bursitis.

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • lateral shoulder pain
  • pain with lying on the affected shoulder
  • pain with overhead activity
  • a painful arc of movement

You can manage you shoulder bursitis with physiotherapy treatment. Initial treatment focuses on reducing inflammation and improving shoulder mobility. However, you can achieve mobility with the use of soft tissue release, passive joint mobilisations, taping to offload irritated structures and dry needling.

Most importantly, you should address and improve shoulder joint strength. In addition, strengthening can help provide increased stability and compression to the shoulder joint, preventing repeated impingement of the subacromial bursa. If sports related, training and technique should also be looked at and adjusted appropriately.

Some shoulder bursitis do not respond to conservative measures, a steroid injection may be used to settle symptoms.

If you have been experiencing the shoulder symptoms described above, contact us here. Our physiotherapists are all experienced in managing shoulder pain caused by bursitis.

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