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Bursitis vs. Tendinitis: Differences Between Common Shoulder Conditions

Shoulder pain? You're not alone. Millions of people experience shoulder discomfort yearly, and two of the most frequent culprits are bursitis and tendinitis. While the names sound similar, they target different parts of your shoulder and cause pain in slightly different ways. This blog post will break down bursitis vs. tendinitis, helping you understand the key differences and what they might mean for your shoulder health.

What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is kind of like a mini-cushion in your shoulder getting upset. These cushions, called bursae, are filled with fluid and act like padding between your bones, muscles, and tendons. When a bursa gets irritated or inflamed, it swells up and becomes painful. This usually happens around the shoulder joint, but it can also occur in other parts of your body. The pain from bursitis is often described as a dull ache or burning feeling, and it might make it hard to move your arm around in certain ways.

Where Does Bursitis Usually Show Up in the Shoulder?

Subacromial bursitis

This is the most common type of shoulder bursitis, affecting the bursa underneath the acromion (a bony projection on your shoulder blade) near the rotator cuff tendons.

Subdeltoid bursitis

This inflammation targets the bursa beneath the deltoid muscle, on the outer side of your upper arm.

Greater trochanteric bursitis

Though not technically in the shoulder joint, this type of bursitis affects the bursa on the bony bump at the top of your thighbone, which can sometimes cause referred pain in the shoulder.

What is Tendinitis?

Imagine your muscles are like strong people and your bones are like the things they need to move. Tendons are tough, stretchy bands that act like ropes, connecting the muscles to the bones. Tendinitis happens when these hard-working ropes get overworked or irritated. This makes them sore and inflamed, leading to pain and weakness in your shoulder. Tendinitis is most common in the rotator cuff, a group of four muscles that keep your shoulder joint moving smoothly.

What Are the Usual Causes Of Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?


Repetitive motions, especially overhead activities like painting, throwing, or weightlifting, can strain the rotator cuff tendons, leading to tendinitis.

Improper form

Activities with poor technique can put excessive stress on the tendons, increasing the risk of inflammation.

Age-related wear and tear

As we age, tendons naturally lose some elasticity and strength, making them more susceptible to tendinitis.

What Are The Key Differences Between Bursitis and Tendinitis?

While both bursitis and tendinitis cause shoulder pain, some key differences set them apart:

Affected Tissue

Bursitis affects the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs cushioning the joint. Tendinitis affects the tendons, the fibrous bands connecting muscles to bones.

Pain Location

Bursitis pain is usually localized to the area overlying the inflamed bursa. Tendinitis pain can radiate down the arm, depending on the affected tendon.


Bursitis can arise from overuse, injury, or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Tendinitis is more commonly caused by repetitive motions and age-related wear and tear.

What Are The Common Symptoms of Bursitis and Tendinitis?

While there's some overlap, bursitis and tendinitis can present with slightly different symptoms.

Bursitis Symptoms:

  • Pain, often described as a dull ache or burning sensation, in the area overlying the inflamed bursa

  • Localized tenderness to touch

  • Swelling in the affected area

  • Difficulty reaching overhead or behind the back

  • Mild weakness in the affected arm

Tendinitis Symptoms:

  • Pain, often sharp or achy, that may worsen with specific movements or activities

  • Tenderness when touching the affected tendon

  • Weakness in the affected arm

  • Catching or grinding sensation in the shoulder joint

  • Pain at night, disrupting sleep

When to See a Doctor?

If you experience persistent shoulder pain that interferes with your daily activities or sleep, it's crucial to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Early intervention can help prevent complications and promote faster healing.

Signs to See a Doctor Immediately:

  • Sudden and severe shoulder pain

  • Inability to move your shoulder at all

  • Deformity or swelling in the shoulder joint

  • Redness or fever around the shoulder

  • Numbness or tingling down the arm

How Can I Treat Bursitis and Tendinitis?

The good news is that both bursitis and tendinitis usually respond well to conservative treatment approaches. Common treatment options include:


Rest is crucial for both bursitis and tendinitis, as it allows the inflamed tissues in your shoulder a chance to heal and recover. Think of it like giving your shoulder a vacation! This doesn't necessarily mean complete inactivity, but rather taking a break from activities that aggravate the pain. For example, if you have subacromial bursitis from painting your ceiling, it might be wise to put down the brush for a while and opt for some gentler tasks until the pain subsides.

Ice Therapy

Ice therapy is another powerful tool in your recovery toolbox. Applying ice packs to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day can significantly reduce inflammation and pain. Imagine the ice working like a mini anti-inflammatory factory, helping to bring down swelling and ease discomfort. Wrap the ice pack in a thin towel before applying it to your shoulder to avoid skin irritation. Remember, consistency is key! Sticking to a regular ice therapy routine can help you manage pain and promote faster healing.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen can help tame pain and inflammation. These medications act like firefighters, quelling the inflammatory response and easing discomfort. Remember to follow the dosage instructions and consult your doctor if you have any underlying health conditions.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be a powerful treatment option for bursitis and tendinitis recovery. A therapist designs exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting your shoulder joint and improve flexibility, ultimately reducing stress on the inflamed tissues.

Corticosteroid Injection

In some cases, a corticosteroid injection may be recommended by your doctor to deliver a powerful anti-inflammatory medication directly to the inflamed area. This can be particularly helpful for providing quick pain relief and reducing inflammation. Remember, these are just general approaches, and it's important to consult a doctor for a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific condition and severity.

Don't Let Shoulder Pain Sideline You: Get the Help You Need

If you're experiencing persistent shoulder pain and suspect bursitis or tendinitis, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your recovery timeline and prevent complications.

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.