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Rotator Cuff Bursitis Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Rotator cuff bursitis is the name given to a condition characterized by inflammation of the bursa (a small sac filled with fluid) in the shoulder

Rotator Cuff Bursitis Hero Image 2

Rotator cuff bursitis is the name given to a condition characterized by inflammation of the bursa (a small sac filled with fluid) in the shoulder. In the shoulder, the bursa is located between the rotator cuff and the tip of the shoulder blade (acromion). The bursa helps the structures of the shoulder to move and ‘glide’ around each other without injury. For example, if the humerus (arm bone) were allowed to rub against the rotator cuff tendons without a cushion, eventually, it would wear a hole, much like when you wear a hole through your socks.




What causes Rotator Cuff Bursitis?

When the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff are healthy, they hold the shoulder in place and allow for proper movement of the entire structure. However, when they are overused by repetitive motions — or when they are injured by a traumatic event, such as falling on the shoulder — the rotator cuff muscles are unable to correctly hold the shoulder in place. A weakness in the rotator cuff muscles allows the humerus bone to pull up closer to the shoulder blade. This places excessive stress on the bursa and causes inflammation.

Rotator cuff bursitis is common in the following sports:

  • Wrestling
  • Football
  • Lacrosse
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Swimming
  • Baseball
  • Volleyball



If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, you may have bursitis:

  • Pain located on the outer portion of the shoulder
  • Pain that worsens when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain with overhead activities

When to see a doctor

If you have shoulder pain that does not subside, pain that progressively gets worse, or experience loss of motion, make an appointment to visit an orthopedic specialist. In the case your problem may be more serious than bursitis, during your appointment, your doctor will examine your shoulder by testing its range of motion, as well as the strength of the affected shoulder and the arm. In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe imaging tests, such as:

  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray
  • MRI

Non-operative treatment

If you’re experiencing symptoms of rotator cuff bursitis, non-operative treatments to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation usually will resolve the condition. These non-operative treatments may include:

  • Rest
  • Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, to reduce swelling and relieve pain
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder
  • Corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling (administered to you by your orthopedic specialist)

You can also try these exercises at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder:

Rotator Cuff Bursitis

Surgical Treatment

Rotator cuff bursitis does not require surgery. Symptoms will resolve using non-operative treatments.


Depending on the severity of the inflammation, you may need to apply non-surgical treatments for a few weeks, or even a few months, to fully treat rotator cuff bursitis. You should only return to overhead sports when you are pain-free and have recovered full range of motion and strength.