What Is the Best Exercise for Shoulder Bursitis?

Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022
What Is the Best Exercise for Shoulder Bursitis?
Bursitis in the shoulder can occur in anybody although it is more common in those who overuse their shoulder joints often.

Shoulder pain makes it difficult to do daily duties, including dressing, bathing, and driving. 

Shoulder bursitis refers to the swelling or inflammation of the fluid-filled sac called the bursa that acts as a cushion in your shoulder. Bursitis produces shoulder discomfort, especially while reaching upward. Chronic bursitis develops over time, usually as a result of overuse or misuse of the shoulder.

Treatment may involve adequate rest of the affected part, ice packs, pain medications, and physical therapy. Light-weight exercises improve the muscles surrounding the shoulder, minimizing inflammation, and discomfort caused by bursitis.

10 best exercises for shoulder bursitis

  1. Scaption
    • Keep your arms at your sides and your elbows straight.
    • Raise your arms slowly to eye level.
    • Spread your arms apart as you lift them so that they are only slightly in front of your torso (at about a 30-degree angle to the front of your body).
    • Point your thumbs up to the sky. Hold for two seconds before slowly lowering your arms.
    • Do two 15-minute sets. When completing the workout, start with light weights and gradually raise the weight as the activity gets easier.
  2. Resisted shoulder external rotation
    • Place your damaged arm farther away from the door and stand sideways next to it.
    • Tie an elastic band or tube to the doorknob at one end and hold the other end with your affected arm.
    • Place your affected arm at your waist and lift the elbow at 90 degrees and keep the forearm parallel to the floor.
    • Move your arm outward and away from your waist while keeping your elbow at your side.
    • Return your arm to the starting position slowly.
    • Repeat 10 times more. Build up to two sets of 15.
  3. Isometric shoulder external rotation
    • Stand in a doorway, bend your elbow 90 degrees and press the back of your wrist on the door frame.
    • Try pressing your hand against the door frame. Hold the position for five seconds. 
    • Do two 15-minute sets.
  4. Isometric shoulder internal rotation
    • Stand in a doorway with your elbow bent 90 degrees, and the front of your wrist pressed against the door frame.
    • Try pressing your palm on the door frame. Hold for five seconds.
    • Do two sets of 15 reps.
  5. Scapular blade compress
    • Stand up and shrug your shoulders up for five seconds.
    • Then, for five seconds, press your shoulder blades back and together.
    • Pull your shoulder blades down as if you were placing them in your back pocket and relax.
    • Repeat 10 times.
  6. Sleeper stretch
    • Lie on your injured side, the hips and knees flexed, and the arm straight out in front of you.
    • Bend your affected elbow to a right angle, with your fingers pointing toward the sky.
    • Then, using your other hand, slowly lower your arm toward the floor.
    • As you perform this exercise, keep your shoulder blades softly pushed together.
    • Maintain the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
  7. Cross arm stretch
    • Bring your right arm across your chest at chest height.
    • Bend your left elbow and squeeze your left forearm on your right forearm, bringing your right arm closer to your chest.
    • Hold for 20 seconds before switching arms and repeating. Repeat three sets.
  8. Wand exercise flexion
    • Hold a stick in both hands, palms down, and stand erect.
    • Lift your arms above your head while maintaining your arms straight.
    • Return to the starting location after five seconds.
    • Repeat 10 times.
  9. Wand exercise external rotation
    • Lie on your back with your palms up and a stick in each hand.
    • Upper arms should be lying on the floor, elbows at sides, and bent 90 degrees.
    • Push your affected arm away from your body with your uninjured arm.
    • While being pushed, keep your affected arm's elbow at your side.
    • Maintain the stretch for five seconds.
    • Rep 10 times more.
  10. Wand exercise extension
    • Hold a stick in both hands behind your back and stand erect.
    • Remove the stick from behind your back.
    • Maintain this posture for five seconds.
    • Return to your starting position by relaxing.
    • Repeat 10 times more.


Pain Management: Surprising Causes of Pain See Slideshow

What is shoulder bursitis?

Bursitis of the shoulder develops when the bursa in the shoulder gets inflamed and swells with fluid. Shoulder discomfort is usually caused by inflammation and edema. Many ordinary tasks, such as brushing your hair or dressing, may become difficult.

Bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs found in joints all over the body, including the shoulder. They function as cushions between bones and soft tissues that cover them, as well as reduce friction between the gliding muscles and the bone.

Excessive shoulder usage can cause inflammation and edema of the bursa between the rotator cuff and the acromion, a portion of the shoulder blade, resulting in subacromial bursitis.

What are the causes of shoulder bursitis?

Bursitis in the shoulder can occur in anybody although it is more common in those who overuse their shoulder joints often, such as people who routinely play golf or tennis and use their shoulders to lift or perform yard work, paint, or construction.

Bursitis is more commonly presented in the elderly, as well as in men and women who have:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Shoulder injury or surgery in the past
  • Infections of the shoulder joint
  • A history of rotator cuff tendon damage or injury
  • History of tendonitis (inflammation of tendons)
  • Incorrect lifting technique
  • Poor posture
  • Lacking proper stretching or conditioning before exercise or any physical activity

Some people have naturally tiny areas in their shoulder joints, making them more susceptible to bursitis with even moderate irritation surrounding the joint.

8 symptoms of shoulder bursitis

  1. Shoulder pain: You may experience moderate shoulder discomfort while moving your arms upward during the early developmental stages of bursitis. This discomfort may steadily worsen over time, and it may eventually be felt even when resting.
  2. Pain that worsens after repeated activity: Pain may worsen after doing extended repetitive shoulder motions, such as painting, tossing a ball, or playing tennis.
  3. Tenderness in the shoulders: The skin on the outside of the shoulder could be sore and sensitive to pressure. Lying down or applying pressure on the afflicted side is frequently painful.
  4. Pain that radiates: The discomfort is initially centered on the outside of the shoulder at the very top of the arm, but if symptoms worsen, the pain may extend down the outside of the arm (though rarely past the elbow).
  5. Muscle weakness: As the illness worsens, you may tend to avoid using the shoulder, which weakens the muscles.
  6. Pain with an extreme range of motion: As the symptoms worsen, actions that necessitate a wide range of movements, such as reaching behind the back to put on a coat or zip a garment, may get difficult.
  7. Swelling is usually absent: Swelling is possible with elbow or knee bursitis but is not always present. According to research, damaged shoulder bursae thicken by just 0.5 mm.
  8. Fever, exhaustion, and skin redness and warmth: If you have septic shoulder bursitis, which occurs when the bursa gets infected, you will experience pain, reduced range of motion, muscle weakness, tenderness, along with other symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, warmth, and redness at the shoulder and general unwellness.

How is shoulder bursitis diagnosed?

Medical history

Your doctor may take your detailed medical history. They may ask questions about how the pain began and any previous history of similar pain and possible treatment. Other relevant questions may be asked to evaluate both your overall health and the potential reasons for your shoulder problem. Because most shoulder disorders are increased and alleviated by certain activities, a medical history can be a useful tool to determine the source of your discomfort.

Physical examination

A thorough examination will be necessary to determine the source of your shoulder ache. Your doctor will examine you for physical signs, such as edema, deformities, or muscular weakness, as well as sensitive spots. They will assess your shoulder strength and range of motion.


  • X-rays: These images will demonstrate any damage to the bones that comprise your shoulder joint.
  • Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): These imaging investigations produce more accurate images of soft tissues. Your doctor may use an MRI to detect damage to the ligaments and tendons that surround your shoulder joint.
  • Computed tomography scan: This scan uses X-rays and computer technologies to provide a very detailed image of the bones and soft tissues in the shoulder region.
  • EMG (electromyogram): Electromyogram is done to examine muscle and nerve function.
  • Arthrogram: Dye is injected into the shoulder during this X-ray scan to better show the joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons. It might be used in conjunction with an MRI.
  • Arthroscopy: During this surgical technique, your doctor uses a fiber-optic camera to view the joint. Soft tissue injuries that are not visible on physical examination, X-rays, or other tests could be revealed via arthroscopy. Arthroscopy could be used to treat the issue as well.

What are the treatment options for shoulder bursitis?

Rest, modifying your activities, and physical therapy to increase shoulder strength and flexibility are common treatments. Avoiding overexertion or overdoing certain activities will assist to prevent shoulder discomfort.


Medications to relieve inflammation and discomfort could be prescribed by your doctor. If pain medicine is recommended, it should be taken exactly as prescribed. Injections, numbing medications, or steroids could be recommended by your doctor to ease discomfort.


Some shoulder disorders may necessitate surgery. Exercise may not be beneficial for certain types of shoulder issues, such as repeated dislocations and certain rotator cuff injuries. Surgery could be considered early in certain patients.

Arthroscopy can be used to remove scar tissue or repair injured tissues, or typical open procedures can be used for major reconstructions or shoulder replacement.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Cleveland Clinic. Tips to Treat and Prevent Shoulder Bursitis. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/shoulder-bursitis-exercises-stretches/

Cedars-Sinai. Bursitis of the Shoulder. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/b/bursitis-of-the-shoulder.html

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Shoulder Bursitis. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shoulder-bursitis