Shoulder Bursitis and Impingement

rotator-cuff-shoulder-impingementThe rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles that attach to the ball of the ball and socket joint known as the shoulder. There is a space between the rotator cuff and the bone that lies directly above it. On top of the muscle is a bursa that allows the muscles to glide against the bone easily. When the bursa becomes inflamed it is called bursitis.


Here is the shoulder with its 4 muscles.


When you lift your arm overhead, there is a tendency for the rotator cuff to get pinched against the acromion, which is the bone above it. It is also part of your scapula or wing blade. As we can see there are different shapes of acromion ranging from Type 1 to Type 3.


Some research has shown that a severe bone spur can dig into the rotator cuff.

If someone has a Type 3 acromion, research has shown that over time the bone can rub against the rotator cuff and dig into it. Also if you landed on your shoulder at some point in your illustrious career of sporting activities, then there is a chance that the acromion impacted against your cuff and bursa. This can develop into a partial tear of your cuff or bursitis, where there is bleeding and swelling in the bursa.


The bursa which used to be smooth becomes thickened and swollen, and turns into a substance that looks like cotton candy.


This is what a bursitis can look like:


The rotator cuff, acromion, and bursa will then rub against one another, causing a painful condition known as impingement. Each time the arm is raised, the tendons and bursa rub against the bone leading to inflammation.
Impingement may become a serious problem for some people and disturb their normal activities. This is when treatment is needed.

Treatment is usually in the form of physical therapy exercises to strengthen the cuff, decrease the risk of bursitis becoming worse. If no relief is seen, then a one-time cortisone injection into the bursa can be very effective. If these don’t work then shaving the acromion and removing the bursitis is often very helpful for this shoulder pain. The diagram below shows a shaver flattening out the acromion and its spur.



So with all this how do we prevent it from happening? First and foremost don’t get born with a Type 3 acromion:) If you can’t control that, then here are some tips.

In CrossFit with overhead maneuvers we have to be aware of the scapula and its rotation. Rotating the scapula back and pinching the shoulder blades together with overhead lifts is helpful. Locking the scapula helps to rotate the acromion posteriorly away from the cuff. This then prevents the acromion from digging in and decreases the chances of impingement.

Mat is rotated and locked in as seen here:


I would say if you have shoulder pain, that isn’t going away the most important thing is not to push through it. Modify your workouts and allow things to quiet down. Listen to your body and get it checked out because your body and your shoulders are trying to tell you something. Pushing through pain when your shoulders are talking is not beneficial. To prevent bursitis, keep your EARS open and your SHOULDERS back.


  1. Hello Doctor. I suffered a grade 3 AC separation a year ago. I’ve been trying to work through the injury conservatively ever since. I have had multiple cortisone injections and my Ortho is recommending a Mumford procedure. Have you performed Mumfords in the past to treat grade 3 separations? I am a little worried about clavicle instability afterwards. Any advice is appreciated.

    • For grade 3 separations that are symptomatic I do a coracoclavicular reconstruction.

  2. Hi Doctor, I had a partial rotator cuff tear,4 months back 1) Partial tear supraspinatous tendon bursal surface and partial tear subscapularis tendon. Can this heal by itself, it pains , but the pain is bearable. I do not experience much pain when abduct my arm side ways but i do experience pain when i do shoulder extension or try reach my back pocket or when i wear a belt while dressing up. Can this heal by itself or will a surgery be required ?

    • I would have to see the studies and examine you to give you accurate advice. Partial tears can be big or small and sometimes do not heal or reattach. If painful then sometimes people get surgery and trim the torn piece like a hangnail.

  3. Hi, i have had an MRI and they told me i have a tear on my left rotator cuff, they want to procced with surgery… is that the only way to fix, it hurts 24/7, modified all my WODs for the last 6 months…very upseting….

    • Hi, sorry to hear that. I can’t comment on your tear as I haven’t seen it myself. You can read my rotator cuff article in the site here. Typically I will tell patients who have a full thickness tear that it should be fixed. I am happy to see you if you are in the area.

  4. I have impingement and something else, which I cannot remember. I’ve dealt with this for 6 yrs and nothing seems to make a difference. As long as I don’t do Crossfit or anything at all strenuous . Well I don’t want to live like that. Plus sleeping is horrendous. I now take benedryl and it gets me through the night. I wake up with burning in my should that subsides throughout the day. I’m back at Crossfit and now it hurts all day every day. However, i COULD live with it if I knew it’s not going to get worse and I can keep doing Crossfit, beekeeping, and my general day to day. My fear is that I’m going to let them go in and they’re going to make it worse or it’s going to take ages to rehab or I’m not going to get a good PT that knows what they’re doing to help me back to Crossfit. So, there it is, is the surgery worth it? I’m 42, so not getting any younger.

    • Jeana, You have to go with a doctor and a team you trust to help make it better. I can’t address your concerns specifically over the internet as I haven’t examined you. If you are in the Boston area I am happy to see you. Sean

    • I’ve been dealing w horrendous shoulder pain for about a year now. Did six weeks PT (2x/week), couldn’t do any exercises due to pain. Finally got Dr. to order MRI, shows bursitis. His asst wouldn’t address anything with me. Now I have to wait three more weeks for appt. I’m in pain 24 hours a day and that is with avoiding most tasks. Even sitting at my desk hurts. So frustrated.

      • Happy to see you in the office, Good luck with it.

  5. I have a type II slap tear, surgeon is recommending cortisone shot for now, would that just mask pain and not fix problem?
    I laid off overhead lifting, push-ups, burpees, pull-ups for 2 weeks started to incorporate again and no luck.
    Doing snatches is fine, but regular presses, push-ups burpees causes pain. I don’t want a temporary fix.
    Your input is appreciated.

    • Cortisone can help if there is inflammation in the tissues such as bursitis. It does not help a SLAP heal but sometimes can make it feel better. If it feels better from overuse and things quiet down, then you may avoid a surgery.

  6. I’ve been doing CrossFit for three years now and still have a hard time convincing people that I just can’t do overhead stuff. I had a PRP injection on my shoulder a year ago to try to jump start healing to a torn rotator cuff and it did not get any better. I have shoulder impingement, but this explanation of the different types of an acromion is new news to me and really seems to me that I have a Type 3. If I lay flat on the ground and put my arms straight back overhead, I can’t get the back of my hands closer than several inches from the ground. I has always felt like there are bones in the way of from reaching such a position. On snatches I can do virtually no weight unless I rotate the palms of my hands outward away from my body while holding the bar. It does something a little different with the shoulders that allows me to do a little weight overhead–but even then it is quite minimal. (I can’t even do a squat snatch; I have to first do a power snatch, then switch my grip at the top to my hands facing out, and then squat down. And my PR for this method is #75.)

    Does all this info seem to be indications of a severe type of type 3 acromion? Got any suggestions? It seems to me that the only solution that would really work would be shaving down the acromion. I did have x-rays taken of my shoulders in the last year and the doctor said everything looks structurally sound. I doubt, however, that he was looking for what type of acromion I have. My next step is to get a hold of those X-rays and ask about that. Anything else to look for?

    • I would go get reevaluated sometimes another exam can pick up on other things like biceps or rotator cuff issues

  7. I am one of those that fell into the type 3 acromium hook over time. I spent most of the year after The Open not doing any overhead presses to full extension (only up to where bicep was parallel to the floor) letting everything settle down. It never really did and was presenting other problems, especially when sleeping.

    Had the Subacromial Decompression surgery in December on a Friday. Was back at the gym on Monday doing the Assault bike only letting my ROM go as far as possible without pain. By end of the week, I had full ROM on the bike. By time I went back, I had full ROM with minimal issues.

  8. After the one time cortisone injection, how much time is needed before resuming exercise?
    Is there evidence that the injection weakens connective tissue (or is that an urban myth)?

    • Direct injection in to a tendon can weaken the tendon. Most injections avoid direct injection. Not an urban myth. Everyone is different regarding recommnedations on when to resume activity with the injected body part. I usually tell my patients 48 hours.

  9. As always you need to check with your surgeon and get the green light. If you were my patient everything has to be light and not cause strain on the other side. Running that distance is too soon. Good luck and check with your surgeon.

  10. I had rotator cuff surgery 10/21 and want to start one armed workouts again. Should I go light with good arm or is it ok to go heavier? Also I was hoping to run a 5K at the end of the month but I am thinking it may be too early to expect this???????

About Me

D Sean Rockett, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon and senior partner of Orthopedics New England with offices in Natick, Newton and Hopkinton, MA. Dr. Rockett is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and co-owner of CrossFit Launchpad. He also enjoys being the head orthopedic surgeon of the CrossFit Games Medical team.

About 321GOMD Blog

This blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion about med­i­cine, health and related sub­jects. The words and other con­tent pro­vided in this blog, and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended and should not be con­strued as med­ical advice. If the reader or any other per­son has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should con­sult with an appropriately-licensed physi­cian or other health care worker.

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