The subacromial bursa is a small fluid filled sac located at the top, outer aspect of the shoulder designed to reduce friction between the acromion and the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle. While elevating the arm, rotating the shoulder, lifting, pushing, pulling or lying on the shoulder forces are placed on the subacromial bursa. This can also occur with a direct impact or fall onto the point of the shoulder. Irritation and/or inflammation of the bursa can occur over time with repetitious movements or suddenly with a direct blow to the point of the shoulder or a fall onto the shoulder.
Symptoms include pain at the top, front, back or outer aspect of the shoulder, which can sometimes radiate into the upper arm as far as the elbow. Less severe cases may experience an ache or stiffness in the shoulder which increases with rest following activities that placed strain on the bursa. However, as the condition progresses symptoms may increase during the activity or sport.
Although the condition can be diagnosed through a thorough subjective and objective physical examination, an ultrasound is usually used to confirm the diagnosis. Further diagnostics such as x-ray, CT or MRI can assist in the diagnosis of other conditions which may be present and assess the severity of the condition.
Generally, Subacromial Bursitis can be treated conservatively beginning with rest to the shoulder and diligently performing exercises. Physical therapy using ultrasound and cryotherapy to reduce inflammation is also helpful. If that didn’t provide adequate pain relief, then steroid injections could be tried. Surgery is a “last resort” type of care in the form of an arthroscope to visualize and repair any damaged structures.
Subacromial bursitis often occurs in conjunction with other shoulder conditions such as rotator cuff tear, tendinopathy, shoulder impingement or shoulder instability. These are usually of slow onset because the result of repetitive activities at work, but subacromial bursitis can also come about acutely, for example as the result from a direct blow to the shoulder or a fall on the shoulder.
These types of injuries are slow to heal and for that reason can result in high treatment costs and increased employee missed time from work. Often whether or not the claimant heals completely or at all is subjective and the success of treatment falls strongly on the claimant’s compliance. This makes surveillance a great option in cases of high suspicion because if you catch your guy in the middle of 18 holes with no apparent shoulder problems, then you really have something!
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