Fitness

7 Shoulder Bursitis Exercises Physical Therapists Swear By

The simplest moves can make the biggest difference.

Physical therapists share their top recommended shoulder bursitis exercises.
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If you reach for something and feel a twinge in your shoulder, it’s possible you’ve got a case of shoulder bursitis. This painful condition can make even the simplest movements really uncomfortable, but there are (thankfully) quite a few exercises and stretches that can make a big difference.

Shoulder bursitis simply means inflammation (itis) of the bursa, says Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist and owner of Proactive Rehabilitation & Wellness. “The shoulder bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs in the shoulder that reduce friction between moving parts in the shoulder.” This happens between bones and tissue in your joints.

Most commonly, shoulder bursitis stems from overuse or repetitive motion. “Typically, these involve overhead movements,” Salazar tells Bustle. “Symptoms typically include pain, swelling, reduced movement or motion, and weakness in the shoulder.” It might also be hard to lift your arms up due to pain or stiffness. “Some people experience a sharp, sudden pain with certain movements,” he adds.

If your shoulder is really bugging you, it’s best to go to a doctor to double-check what’s causing those aches. Sometimes the symptoms of bursitis can be similar to other issues, like tendonitis, Salazar says. Once you've identified the pain as bursitis, that’s when you can do a few simple moves throughout the day to feel better. Here are seven shoulder bursitis exercises to try that should help set things right.

1

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

You’ll be happy to know that it’s often the simplest moves, like squeezing your shoulder blades together, that make the biggest difference. “While it may not be responsible for every case of shoulder bursitis, poor posture may be a contributing factor or a symptom,” says Shannon Cabral, PT, a physical therapist and owner of Shannon Lynne Physical Therapy. This move strengthens and retrains your back muscles for better alignment and improves your shoulders’ range of motion — which results in less pain.

- Stand with your arms resting by your sides.

- Squeeze your shoulder blades together. For a visual, think about trying to pinch a ball between your shoulder blades.

- Hold for five seconds then relax.

- Do 10 to 12 squeezes 2 to 3 times a day.

2

Shoulder Shrugs

This subtle move can also provide relief. “Shoulder shrugs help to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint,” says Lalitha McSorley, PT, a physical therapist and personal trainer at Brentwood Physio. Over time, it can help decrease bursitis pain.

- Stand in a neutral position.

- Shrug or raise your shoulders up to your ears.

- Hold your shoulders up for two seconds.

- Release back down then shrug again.

- Repeat 10 times.

3

Seated Row With Resistance Band

The seated row helps to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder joints, McSorley says. “This can help to reduce the strain on the bursa and improve symptoms.”

- Sit on the floor with legs extended in front of you, feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

- Loop a resistance band around your feet and hold either end.

- Row by pulling the band back toward your chest.

- Maintain a straight back.

- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the move.

- Pause for two seconds before slowly releasing the band back to starting position.

- Try 3 sets of 10 reps.

4

Wall Push-Ups

McSorley also recommends wall push-ups. “They help to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder,” she says. “They also help to improve the range of motion.”

- Place your palms against a wall shoulder-width apart.

- Walk your feet back until you’re in a plank position with your body straight from head to heels.

- Bend your elbows.

- Slowly lower yourself toward the wall, stopping when your nose nearly touches it.

- Press back up to the starting position.

- Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.

5

Posterior Shoulder Stretch

Since consistency is key, try to add these exercises into your daily routine. “I tend to tell people to do them at breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Salazar says. This shoulder stretch can help relieve pain while loosening the rotator cuff.

- Hold the elbow of the affected arm with your other hand.

- Use that hand to pull the affected arm gently up and across your body.

- Feel a stretch on the back of your shoulder.

- Hold for up to 30 seconds.

- Repeat 3 to 5 times.

- Aim to do this stretch 1 to 3 times a day.

6

Anterior Shoulder Stretch

Salazar also recommends this stretch for shoulder bursitis.

- Start by reaching the hand of your affected arm towards your back pocket.

- Reach your other hand behind you and hold the affected arm by the wrist.

- Keep the palm of your affected arm facing out.

- Gently pull the arm upwards until you feel a stretch.

- Hold for up to 30 seconds.

- Repeat 3 to 5 times.

- Aim to do this stretch 1 to 3 times a day.

- For a variation, use a wall for support.

7

Overhead Dowel Stretch

Salazar also recommends pausing throughout the day to try this move that helps improve your shoulder mobility.

- Lie on your back or kneel.

- Hold a weightless stick or dowel (like a broom handle) with both hands.

- Keep your elbows straight as you slowly raise your arms over your head.

- Hold for up to 30 seconds.

- Repeat 3 to 5 reps.

Studies referenced:

Castelein, B. (2016). Man Ther. Modifying the shoulder joint position during shrugging and retraction exercises alters the activation of the medial scapular muscles. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2015.09.005. Epub 2015 Sep 16. PMID: 26409441.

Faruqi, T. (20220> Subacromial Bursitis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541096/.

Klatte-Schulz, F. (2022). Subacromial Bursa: A Neglected Tissue Is Gaining More and More Attention in Clinical and Experimental Research. Cells. doi: 10.3390/cells11040663.

VanBaak, K. (2020). Shoulder Conditions: Rotator Cuff Injuries and Bursitis. FP Essent. PMID: 32315143

Sources:

Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, occupational therapist, owner of Proactive Rehabilitation & Wellness

Dr. Shannon Cabral, PT, physical therapist, owner of Shannon Lynne Physical Therapy

Lalitha McSorley, PT, physical therapist, personal trainer at Brentwood Physio