What Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?
Rotator cuff tendinitis, or tendonitis, affects the tendons and
muscles that help move the shoulder joint. If you have tendinitis, it means that
your tendons are inflamed or irritated. Rotator cuff tendinitis is also called
This condition usually occurs over time. It can be the result of
keeping the shoulder in one position for a while, sleeping on the shoulder
every night, or participating in activities that require extending the arm over
Athletes playing sports that require extending the arm over the
head commonly develop rotator cuff tendinitis. This is why the condition may
also be referred to as:
- swimmer’s shoulder
- pitcher’s shoulder
- tennis shoulder
Sometimes, rotator cuff tendinitis can occur without any known
cause. Most people with rotator cuff tendinitis are able to regain full
function of the shoulder without any pain.
What Are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?
he symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis tend to get worse over
time. Initial symptoms may be relieved with rest, but the symptoms can later
become constant. Symptoms that go past the elbow usually indicate another
Symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis include:
- pain and swelling in the front of the shoulder
and side of the arm
- pain triggered by raising or lowering the arm
- a clicking sound when raising the arm
- pain that causes you to wake from sleep
- pain when reaching behind the back
- a loss of mobility and strength in the affected
How Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Diagnosed?
If you’re having symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis, your doctor
will begin by examining your shoulder. You’ll be checked to see where you’re
feeling pain and tenderness. Your doctor will also test your range of motion by
asking you to move your arm in certain directions.
Your doctor may also test the strength of your shoulder joint by
asking you to press against their hand. They may also examine your neck to
check for conditions such as a pinched nerve or arthritis that can cause
symptoms similar to rotator cuff tendinitis.
Your doctor may order imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis of
rotator cuff tendinitis and rule out any other causes of your symptoms. An
X-ray may be ordered to see if you have a bone spur. Your doctor may order an
ultrasound or MRI to check for inflammation in the rotator cuff and to check
for any tearing.
How Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Treated?
Initial treatment of rotator cuff tendinitis involves managing
pain and swelling to promote healing. This can be done by:
- avoiding activities that cause pain
- applying cold packs to your shoulder three to
four times per day
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen
Additional treatment may include:
Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist. Physical
therapy will initially consist of stretching and other passive exercises to
help restore range of motion and ease pain. Once the pain is under control,
your physical therapist will teach you exercises to help regain strength in
your arm and shoulder.
If your rotator cuff tendinitis is not being managed by more
conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection. This is
injected into the tendon to reduce inflammation, which reduces pain.
If nonsurgical treatment isn’t successful, your doctor may
recommend surgery. Most people experience full recovery after having rotator
cuff surgery. The most noninvasive form of shoulder surgery is accomplished via
arthroscopy. This involves two or three small cuts around the shoulder, through
which your doctor will insert various instruments. One of these instruments
will have a camera, so your surgeon can view the damaged tissue through the
Open shoulder surgery is usually not required for rotator cuff
tendinitis. However, this method may be used if there are other problems in the
shoulder, such as a large tendon tear. Surgery involves recovery that consists
of rest and physical therapy to restore strength and range of motion.
Home Care for Your Shoulder
There are several things you can do to help reduce pain from
rotator cuff tendinitis. These techniques can also help prevent rotator cuff
tendinitis or another flare-up of pain.
Shoulder self-care includes:
- using good posture while sitting
- avoiding lifting your arms repetitively over
- taking breaks from repetitive activities
- avoiding sleeping on the same side every night
- avoiding carrying a bag on only one shoulder
- carrying things close to your body