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Complaining of ongoing shoulder pain?..There is still hope!

As a physio, I come across many people who say that they have put up with shoulder pain for a long time and that they have accepted the associated movement adaptations as a fact of life. This doesn’t need to be the case and it’s important to know that the more this situation prolongs, the harder it becomes to restore the shoulder’s normal function. The fact of the matter remains that shoulder pain is often misunderstood as just shoulder stiffness and the concerns are raised when the pain has remained the same (or worsened!) over several months since first noticed.

Shoulder pain can be difficult to diagnose particularly when it has been longstanding. A trip to a doctor or other service provider will likely see you put through a physical assessment and more than likely request you have a scan completed. This is needed to provide a more definitive and accurate diagnose for your shoulder pain.

“I’ve been diagnosed with a shoulder bursitis …What does this mean?”

So, your practitioner has diagnosed you with a shoulder bursitis. This will often confuse the patient as they often need more clarity to know what exactly is occurring in the shoulder. Hopefully I can provide some answers…

Shoulder bursitis:  Your shoulder contains 2 ‘sacs’ of fluid called a bursa which are housed under the bony part of your shoulder called the acromion and your deltoid muscle. You can feel your acromion by touching your collar bone and find where it ends on the top of your shoulder. This sac of fluid can become irritated and then inflamed if your shoulder is involved in some type of trauma (fall or lifting accident) or if you perform a lot of repetitive tasks (ie computer typing, lifting jobs, over head activities). It can even develop if you develop ‘round’ shoulders or have poor shoulder posture. Notice that even the innocuous activities can stir up the bursa.

What does shoulder bursitis feel like? You may often experience a sharp or dull ache in your shoulder when you perform certain movements. It might be constant or intermittent. Some of these might include:

–          Lifting your arms sideways past shoulder height

–          Moving your hand behind and up your back

–          Leaning to reach for an object in the car or a table

–          Performing grooming tasks such as combing your hair or brushing your teeth

“What can be done? Am I going to have to have surgery to fix this?”

The answer is generally no! I hope this sets your mind at ease. One of the most common problems associated with a shoulder bursitis is when the bony acromion can press down and irritate the bursa. This is due to your scapula (shoulder blade) sitting in a forward tilted position and can often be the body’s adjustment to protect the shoulder when the bursa is irritated. You will then need to undertake some light shoulder exercise to correct the problem and return the shoulder to normal function

Why is physio useful?

A few short sessions with your physio can steer you in the right direction and help you to relieve that annoying pain you’ve been suffering through for some time. Some of the reasons why physio is useful are:

–          They can provide relief of associated muscle tightness and manually help in correcting the posture of your shoulder system

–          Use other modalities such as dry needling, electrotherapy and trigger point therapy to reduce your bursa-associated symptoms

–          Provide you with the exercise tools and program you need to heal your shoulder and correct any biomechanical issues

–          Educate you on how to avoid the shoulder bursa from being irritated in the future


In final, I hope you found this information useful if you, or someone you know, has being diagnosed with a shoulder bursitis. You can prevent yourself from developing a bursitis by following a few simple tips:

–          Practice safe lifting and avoid lifting heavy objects that are too heavy

–          Take regular breaks if you perform repetitive tasks like computer typing or prolonged shoulder use

–          Practice keeping your shoulder blades together

–          Make an appointment to see your practitioner if your temporary shoulder pain turns into ongoing shoulder pain!

Good luck and please feel free to browse other articles on this website that may be useful to you.

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