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Understanding the Link Between Shoulder Arthritis and Bursitis

Understanding the Link Between Shoulder Arthritis and Bursitis

Arthritis is an umbrella term that covers various types of joint conditions and affects more than 58 million women, men, and children in the United States alone. 

The inflammatory condition bursitis, in contrast, only accounts for about 0.4% of primary care visits, but if you have arthritis, you’re at increased risk for bursitis.

With osteoarthritis, anyone who engages in repetitive motions for their living or as a hobby is at risk for bursitis. Athletes, musicians, and manual laborers are especially prone to developing this type of shoulder pain. 

If you have shoulder pain, our board-certified rheumatologists at the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, perform an in-depth evaluation to discover the cause of your discomfort. If you have a painful, stiff, or swollen shoulder, you may have arthritis, bursitis, or both.

What bursitis is

The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that are usually located near your joints. Made of connective tissue and filled with synovial fluid, they act like little pillows that protect your bones and tissues from friction and other forces.

For instance, the bursae in your elbow cushion your bones when you rest your elbows on a hard surface, like a table. The bursae also provide a gliding surface for tissue and bone.

But as with any tissue, the bursae can get damaged or broken. An injured bursa may become inflamed, leading to the condition called bursitis. Anything from overuse to an infection may cause bursitis. Symptoms of bursitis include:

Do those symptoms sound like arthritis? They do. That’s why it’s easy to mistake one for the other and why it’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis when you’re in pain instead of assuming it’s just another arthritis flare.

How arthritis and bursitis are linked

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis raise your risk for bursitis, but the links between them are slightly different.

Osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis because it usually occurs as a result of overuse due to repetitive motions or aging. When you wear down the cartilage in your joint by performing the same actions over and over, you wear down the bursae, too.

Osteoarthritis can also sometimes develop as a result of acute trauma, such as a fall. That same acute incident may damage the bursae, too. 

In rheumatoid arthritis, you may change the way you move your arm to compensate for the pain in your shoulder. Those changes in stress can affect and irritate the bursae.

Finally, in both forms of shoulder arthritis, the inflammation and swelling may press against and irritate the bursae. Inflamed tissues tend to spread inflammation to the tissues nearest it.

How to get relief from bursitis

Unlike arthritis, which is a chronic condition, bursitis usually resolves on its own. Most of the time, you can get relief and help the bursae heal with:

In rare cases, you may need surgery to remove damaged bursae.

Do you have new shoulder pain? Find out if it’s bursitis by contacting us today by phone or online form at our office nearest you — in Monroe, Flemington, or Somerville, New Jersey.

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