Can Shoulder Bursitis Be Treated Without Surgery?

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In many of your joints, you have bursa. These are little, fluid-filled sacs that are meant to cushion your joints and allow your bones and muscles to move past one another with less friction. Unfortunately, bursae can sometimes become swollen and uncomfortable. When they do, the condition is known as bursitis. This is particularly likely to happen in your shoulder, a joint in which the bursae are under particular strain. Shoulder bursitis results in pain, stiffness, and sometimes even swelling and warmth. The most severe cases often have to be treated with surgery to remove the bursa. However, many less serious cases of bursitis can be treated non-surgically with one or more of the following methods.

Wearing a Splint

Because your bursa gets rubbed against every time you move your shoulder, sometimes your shoulder needs to stay immobile for a while in order for your bursa to heal. Your doctor may therefore give you a splint to wear throughout the day. This will help prevent you from using your shoulder, and it will remind you not to do things that are hard on it.

Taking Anti-inflammatory Medications

Sometimes taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, will bring the swelling down and stop the immediate friction between the bursa and other structures. If you're able to keep that swelling down with meds for a few days or weeks, then your bursae may finally start healing. Of course, you'll also want to take things easy, physically, when taking NSAIDs for shoulder bursitis.


If you stretch your shoulder, you may be able to reduce tension in some of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the bursa. This, in turn, may reduce pressure on the bursa so it can heal. A good, basic shoulder stretch to do involves making arm circles. Start with small circles, and slowly work your way out. Do them in both directions. Your doctor or physical therapist should be able to give you more specific stretches to do based on which exact bursa is bothering you. Whichever stretches are prescribed, make sure you do them consistently, and work your way up to doing more and more repeats over time.

If you are struggling with shoulder pain due to bursitis, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Chances are, they will recommend starting with one or more of the approaches above. Surgery is really only required when these treatments don't work. For more information on shoulder pain treatment, contact a professional near you.