The word “bursitis” is a favorite at cocktail parties as friends describe their sports “war stories.” Although many people use the phrase loosely, we find a lot of our patients don’t really know what a “bursa” is. A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that provides cushion and absorbs impact or shear forces in areas where muscles, tendons and bones frequently overlap. We literally have hundreds if not more bursa throughout our bodies. They come with names like the “pes anserine bursa” the “glutius medius bursa” and of course the “subacromial bursa.” Medical-speak that doctors use can be confusing at first but if you just go back to basic Latin roots you can figure most things out. So “sub” means under “acromial” refers to the bone the acromion which is an extension off the scapula and bursa we know already. Now any time the suffix “itis” is tagged on to something it means inflammation. So now you understand where the structure is located and what its problem is. Subacromial bursitis merely means that a small fluid-filled sac underneath the acromial bone is inflamed and irritated. As a result, you feel pain when you perform certain motions such as lifting your arm up over head, serving in tennis or putting on your bra. Any motion that squeezes the inflamed bursa between the acromion and the arm bone (the humerus) irritates it further and can cause pain.

No not everything that looks like a donkey is a donkey as they say, so other problems can masquerade as your friendly, run of the mill subacromial bursitis and that includes rotator cuff tears, acromio-clavicular arthritis, cervical radiculopathy or other diagnoses. You can self treat for a while with rest, avoiding activities that cause pain and icing the area 3-5 times a day for 20 minutes each time. If however these fail to provide relief you should be evaluated. We frequently find that muscular imbalance and poor posture are major predictors of persistent pain and recurrent problems. Tight pectoralis minor and upper trapezius with weak rhomboids, low trapezius and inferospinatus will set you up for chronic bursitis and eventual rotator cuff impingement and possible tears. So check out our shoulder work outs in the store and if you want to stay active in sport, or just have a history of shoulder bursitis in the past, you may want to start a preventive program now.

To learn more about subacromial bursitis or to schedule a consultation contact us.