Bursitis and tendinitis, also known as soft tissue rheumatic syndromes, cause swelling around the bones, muscles and joints. Many instances of shoulder and elbow pain are mistaken as joint pain caused by arthritis, when the actual cause is either bursitis or tendinitis. Factually, arthritis affects the joint itself whereas bursitis and tendinitis involve inflammation in the tissues and structures around a joint. Both the two syndromes cause intense shoulder and elbow pain and may cripple routine life by restricting upper limb motion. The participating physician members at Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center referral center provide minimally invasive treatment options for a multitude of orthopedic conditions including shoulder and elbow pain. Shedding more light on the subject, this blog post discusses all that you need to know about bursitis and tendinitis.


According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, tendinitis and bursitis mainly affect the shoulder and the elbow, but may also have an impact on wrist, hip, knee and ankle. Tendinitis can occur due to a sudden injury to the nearby structures of a joint, or overuse of joints. Bursitis, on the other hand, is caused by the inflammation of bursa – a cushioning sheath that avoids friction between bones and surrounding soft tissues, such as skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Additionally, some activities may also causes the problem. The list includes:

  • Physical activities posing a risk of injury or overwork to the joints
  • Incorrect posture
  • Stress on the soft tissues due to improper positioning of bone or joints
  • Medical condition such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or thyroid disease
  • Unusual drug reaction


Types of Bursitis

Although bursitis can affect any joint of the body, there are certain types specifically affecting the shoulder and elbow. They are:

Subacromial bursitis
Subacromial bursitis is caused due to injury, impingement, overuse of the shoulder, or calcium deposits just above the rotator cuff. Typical symptoms are pain in the upper shoulder or pain radiating to the limbs while moving the shoulder.

Olecranon Bursitis
Olecranon bursitis is swelling of bursae at the elbow tip due to underlying diseases, such as gout, prolonged leaning on elbows or rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms include redness, swelling and intense pain at the elbow tip.

Types of Tendinitis

Tendons help in moving the bones from the power generated by the muscles. Inflammation of the tendons is called Tendinitis. Just like Bursitis, there are specific types of Tendinitis affecting the shoulder and elbow. They are:

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
Also known as the Impingement Syndrome, Rotator Cuff Tendinitis cause inflammation of the shoulder tendons due to overuse or pinching of the joints, restricting the shoulder motion. Typical symptoms include ache in the upper shoulder region, trouble sleeping on the shoulder or pain while lifting the arm overhead.

Bicipital Tendinitis
Tendon inflammation in the biceps located at the front end of shoulder due to strenuous activities or overuse is called Bicipital Tendinitis. This type of inflammation causes front or side shoulder pain, radiating to the wrists and arms.

Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow
Any activity involving a lot of wrist turning or hand gripping, such as using hand tools or playing some sports, may cause Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow, leading to pain in the elbow that radiates to the arm and the forearm.


The primary symptom of bursitis and tendinitis is pain around the knee, elbow or other joints of the body. Certain cases are also known to show redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area. The onset of symptoms is mostly sudden and may persist for days, weeks and even months in the absence of medical attention.


Diagnosis of bursitis and tendinitis starts with reviewing the patient’s medical history, followed by a physical examination. A doctor can make a diagnosis by knowing the nature of the pain, whether consistent or intermittent, and the duration of pain during specific parts of the day. The patient might undergo certain diagnostic tests such as:

  • Selective tissue tension test to find the affected tendon
  • Touching specific areas of shoulder and elbow to pinpoint swelling
  • Joint fluid test to check for infection
  • MRI



Preliminary treatments to counteract inflammation and reduce pain include over-the-counter medications such as Naproxen, Aspirin, and Ibuprofen. Other treatment methods may include applying ice packs, corticosteroid drugs, massaging the soft tissue, and stretching and strengthening exercises. If the symptoms show little or no improvement after 6 to 8 months of initial treatment, the doctor may recommend a surgical treatment.

The Way Forward

Although bursitis and tendinitis can affect people from all age groups, taking preventive measures can reduce the risk of developing these disorders. Warming and stretching up before exercise, taking breaks between repetitive shoulder and elbow intensive tasks, and light gripping techniques, can lower the chances of developing Bursitis and Tendinitis. If you or someone you know has been experiencing shoulder and elbow pain, a physician who is a member of the THSOC referral program may be able to help. To learn more about how we can assist you in finding the right doctor, simply call 1-888-608-4762. To book an appointment, click here.

Resource: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Disclaimer: Physicians who are members of the referral program practice independently and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Spine and Orthopedic Center