Shoulder tendonitis and bursitis

African American man with shoulder pain

​Both tendonitis and bursitis can cause pain, swelling and weakness in the shoulder. 

Tendonitis occurs when one or more of the tendons in the shoulder become inflamed or irritated. Tendons attach the body’s muscles to the bones. You may develop shoulder tendonitis from repetitive overuse activity, such as playing tennis, or a more serious injury.

Bursitis develops when the fluid-filled pads in the shoulder (the bursae) become inflamed. The bursae cushions the shoulder joint between the bones, tendons and muscles. Shoulder bursitis is usually caused by wear and tear or an infection.

Shoulder tendonitis and bursitis symptoms

The symptoms of shoulder tendonitis and bursitis include:

  • Difficulty moving the shoulder

  • Inability to hold your arm in certain positions

  • Pain, stiffness and swelling in the joint

Shoulder tendonitis and bursitis diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnose shoulder tendonitis or bursitis using one or more of the following tests:

  • A physical exam—to assess pain, swelling and range of motion in the shoulder joint.

  • X-rays— invisible electromagnetic energy beams that make images of different bones and their surrounding soft tissues.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—provides a view inside the body using a large magnet, radio waves and computer technology.

  • Ultrasonography— an imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the shoulder. 

Shoulder tendonitis and bursitis treatment 

Depending on the extent of your shoulder tendonitis or bursitis, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments: 

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications—oral or topical medications that reduce swelling and inflammation that cause pain. 

  • Cold therapy—your doctor may recommend applying ice packs to the shoulder several times a day to reduce pain and swelling. 

  • Cortisone injections—an anti-inflammatory steroid is injected into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation and pain.

  • Physical therapy—exercises to strengthen and regain range of motion and function in the shoulder.  

  • Rest—avoiding activities and sports that cause the tendonitis or bursitis to flare up. 

  • Surgery—in rare cases, surgery may be needed to treat severe injuries that cause tendonitis or bursitis.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our physicians are experts in properly diagnosing and treating your shoulder pain, so you can feel better as soon as possible. 

Find a shoulder specialist near you.