Shoulder bursitis vs arthritis

Shoulder Bursitis vs Arthritis: What’s the Difference?

Shoulder bursitis and shoulder arthritis are both painful conditions affecting the shoulder joint. Although the symptoms of these conditions can be similar, they affect different structures of the shoulder and have different causes.

Treatments for these conditions depend on the origin, location and severity of symptoms. But as people can mistake the symptoms of bursitis for arthritis, it is important to get a confirmed diagnosis with a shoulder specialist to determine the most effective treatment plan.

Here we look at these two common shoulder conditions and the differences between them.

Shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is a common cause of shoulder pain, and the most common type of bursitis. It is caused by inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that surround the shoulder joint – normally affecting the subacromial bursae. These cushion the area between the rotator cuff tendons and the acromion, allowing structures like tendons and bones to glide without friction when you lift your arm.

Usually a chronic condition, shoulder bursitis is often accompanied by tendinopathy of the rotator cuff tendons. It is normally an overuse injury, but it can be caused by an accident, infection or pre-existing condition such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Overhead activities become difficult to perform with this condition, and pain is typically worse at night. Other symptoms of shoulder bursitis are:

  • pain around the outside or tip of the shoulder
  • tenderness upon touching the shoulder
  • reduced range of movement in the shoulder joint
  • inflammation around the shoulder
  • shoulder pain when the arm is raised

Typical treatment for shoulder bursitis involves rest, icing, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. Steroid injections into the inflamed bursae can also give some temporary pain relief. Full recovery from bursitis is normally achieved, but if symptoms worsen or don’t improve with treatment then surgery may be recommended to remove the damaged tissue.

How is bursitis different from shoulder arthritis?

Arthritis can occur anywhere in the body, but arthritis of the shoulder occurs at the Glenohumeral (large ball and socket joint) or the smaller acromioclavicular joint. Normally, this is osteoarthritis caused by wear and tear – typically affecting older patients. But there is also rheumatoid arthritis, which is a swelling of the synovium lining.

Shoulder arthritis affects the bones and cartilage but can cause some similar symptoms to shoulder bursitis. These include joint pain, inflammation and shoulder stiffness. Causes of shoulder arthritis differ to bursitis, with predetermining factors including age, excess weight, autoimmune diseases, and genes. However, it can also be caused by an injury or through repeated overhead activities.

The non-surgical treatment options for shoulder arthritis are similar to bursitis and can include ice or heat therapy, pain medication and physical therapy. For advanced osteoarthritis, surgery may be advised in the form of a total shoulder replacement.

To determine the cause of your shoulder pain, get in touch with the London Shoulder Specialists to arrange a consultation. They can carry out a physical assessment and organise imaging tests to identify the affected joint and can recommend treatment options tailored to you.