Best Exercises for Shoulder Bursitis to Relieve Discomfort

Exercises for shoulder bursitis | Feel Good Life with Coach Todd

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Has your doctor ever recommended you change sleeping positions because of shoulder pain?

Just sleep on your other side” he expertly recommends. Oh yeah, right. Sure…

The new sleeping position may help ease your shoulder pain for a moment, but now you have a new problem…. falling asleep!

We all have our favorite sleeping positions. One of the greatest joys in life is snuggling into warm, clean sheets on a cold winter’s night in your “go-to” sleeping position.

Personally, I favor the fetal position. My 5-year-old son sleeps on his back with his arms folded over his chest. Makes me cringe every time I see him. Looks like he’s in a casket.

But then… shoulder pain ambushes you in the night. Attack! Your defenses were down. Now insomnia joins the party. Ugh!

One of the most common causes of nighttime pain is shoulder bursitis. Let’s build up your defenses against this enemy with some powerful shoulder bursitis exercises so you can enjoy deep, restful slumber. Zzzzzz….

What is Shoulder Bursitis & Why Does It Keep Me Up At Night?

Have you ever heard of a bursa? No. I’m not talking about your hubby’s sister who lives in rural Saskatchewan. I think her name was Bertha anyway.

A bursa is actually a tiny sac that lives in your joints. They have an important job. Every time you move your joints, they help cushion your joint.

The bursa in your shoulder helps the ligaments and tendons glide like a figure skater on ice. But when the ice gets bumpy, no more double pirouettes.

How does the ice get bumpy?

Bursitis is inflammation of these tiny bursae sacs. It’s often caused by overuse or repetitive motion in your shoulder from activities like washing dishes, yard work, knitting, woodworking, tennis, or even golf.

Of course, I’m not recommending you give up your tradition of knitting a sweater for each of your grandchildren. Or letting those dishes stack up until your neighbor complains of the stench.

I’ve got some amazing shoulder bursitis exercises to help soothe those inflamed bursae and build shoulder strength… so your shoulder can handle the repetition needed to improve your golf swing.

Is My Pain Caused By Shoulder Bursitis?

Here’s a simple test you can try. Remember, bursitis happens when those tiny sacs are inflamed. So if you push on them, it makes sense that the pain would increase.

Exercises for shoulder bursitis

If your right shoulder is painful, let it rest by your side. With your left fingers, cup them together and press on the outside tip of the shoulder.

You’ll push inward. You don’t need to poke hard. You aren’t playing whack-a- mole! Did you wince? Ok, you may have bursitis.

No pain there? Maybe it’s shoulder impingement instead. Head over to that article instead to see if that may be the correct cause of your pain.

How Can You Treat Shoulder Bursitis?

Step one, rest your shoulder. Stop any activity that causes pain for several days.

Sorry Frank, I’ll have to skip the round of golf this week.”

While you are resting, become best friends with your ice pack. Place the ice pack on the painful part of your shoulder at least 3X per day. The cold will help reduce inflammation.

After a few days, it’s time to gently work that shoulder. You may still have some discomfort in your shoulder. That’s ok. If you have severe pain while doing these shoulder bursitis exercises, stop.

“No pain. No gain.” is a motto that should be put to rest with a 6 shooter.

Take it slow. Be gentle with these exercises.

Exercises for Shoulder Bursitis To Treat The Pain

Your rebab program is going to come in two phases: strengthening exercises and stretching exercises.

Strengthening the shoulder is important because it helps take the pressure off the bursae and helps prevent further irritation. One of the best ways to gently strengthen your shoulder is to use isometric exercises.

Isometric means that you are using your muscles, but you are not actually moving your shoulder. The best way to perform isometric exercise is to find a wall in your home!

1. Isometric extension

Isometric extension

For this exercise start by standing with your back to the wall and your elbow bent 90 degrees.

Then, gently press the back of your elbow into the wall, gradually increasing the pressure for 5 seconds.

You want to start off with only 50-60% of your maximum strength. One way to judge how hard to push is based on your pain levels.

Some discomfort is ok, but if you feel cramping or a significant increase in pain you are pressing too hard! Repeat the exercise eight times. You will feel muscles activate in the back of your shoulder and arm.

Repeat 8 times. 

2. Isometric flexion

Isometric flexion

For this exercise face the wall with your elbow bent to 90 degrees. Gently press your fist into the wall, gradually increasing the pressure to 50-60% of your maximum strength for 5 seconds.

Repeat eight times. You will feel muscle activated in the front of your shoulder and arm.

Repeat 8 times. 

3. Isometric External Rotation

Isometric External Rotation

This time stand in a door frame with your elbow bent to 90 degrees. Gently press the back of your hand into the door frame, gradually increasing the pressure to 50-60% of your maximum strength for 5 seconds.

You want just the back of your hand pressing, not your entire forearm. That way, you activate the muscles responsible for external rotation (rotating your hand away from your body).

You will feel muscles activated on the outside of your arm and shoulder.

Repeat 8 times.

4. Isometric Internal Rotation

Isometric Internal Rotation

For this exercise stand in front a door frame with your elbow bent to 90 degrees. Gently press just the palm of your hand into the door frame, gradually increasing the pressure to 50-60% of your maximum strength for 5 seconds.

You want just the palm of your hand, not the inside of your forearm pressing. That way you activate the muscles responsible for internal rotation (rotating you hand towards from your body).

You will feel muscles activate on the inside of your shoulder and arm.

Repeat 8 times. 

Stretching is also important to help maintain your range of motion and help with the pain. Here are two ways to gently stretch your shoulder:

5. Pendulums


Lean forward on a steady surface like a counter or table, using your pain-free arm to hold onto the table. Relax your painful shoulder like it’s a cooked spaghetti noodle.

Then you are going to use your body weight to sift side to side so that your arm starts to swing in a circle. Keep your painful shoulder relaxed and just let your body weight help it swing side to side.

Perform twenty swings back and forth. 

6. Counter Stretch

counter stretch

Stand with both hands on a stable surface, such as a counter or table. Slowly step backward, keeping both hands on the counter until you feel a stretch in your shoulders.

Hold for 10 seconds. Be sure to not stretch into pain.

Repeat 5 times. 

Strengthening and stretching can help with bursitis pain and can also help stop the pain from coming back; however, it is very common for bursitis to come back!

This means you should be kind to your body if you feel shoulder pain again. One of the best ways to prevent bursitis pain is to identify the activity or activities that are causing inflammation.

If possible, find ways to avoid those movements. Let’s admit it though, you’re not going to give up knitting or golf and unfortunately, you can’t stop washing dishes, but there may be ways you can modify the activity.

Don’t forget to take breaks to let your shoulder rest and keep up with your exercises so that you can keep doing what makes you happy and with time even sleep in your favorite position again!

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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