Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

Written by Janelle Martel | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?

Rotator cuff tendinitis affects the tendons and muscles that help move the shoulder joint. Tendinitis means that these tendons are inflamed or irritated. Rotator cuff tendinitis may also be called impingement syndrome.

Tendinitis of the rotator cuff usually occurs over time. It can be the result of keeping the shoulder in one position over a period of time, sleeping on the shoulder every night, or participating in activities that require extending the arm over the head.

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, or tennis shoulder.

Sometimes rotator cuff tendinitis can occur without any known cause. Most individuals with rotator cuff tendinitis are able to regain full function of the shoulder without any pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?

Symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis tend to worsen over time. Initial symptoms may be relieved with rest, but eventually the symptoms can become constant. Symptoms that go past the elbow usually indicate another problem.

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
  • clicking sound when raising the arm
  • stiffness
  • pain that causes you to wake from sleep
  • pain when reaching behind the back
  • loss of mobility and strength in the affected arm

How Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Diagnosed?

If you are having symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis, your doctor will begin by examining your shoulder. He or she will check to see where you are 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 his or her hand. He or she 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 magnetic resonance imaging (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 the shoulder three to four times per day
  • taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen

Additional treatment may include:

Physical Therapy

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.

Steroids

If the 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.

Surgery

If nonsurgical treatment is not successful, your doctor may recommend surgery. Most individuals experience full recovery after having rotator cuff surgery. The most non-invasive 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 small incisions.

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. Any type of 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 your head
  • 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
Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

More on Healthline

13 Celebrities with Epilepsy
13 Celebrities with Epilepsy
Epilepsy has serious effects, but it can be controlled with treatment. Most people with epilepsy live long and normal lives, including these celebrities.
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
From first exposure to life-threatening complications, learn how quickly an allergy attack can escalate and why it can become life threatening.
Seasonal Allergies and COPD: Tips to Avoid Complications
Seasonal Allergies and COPD: Tips to Avoid Complications
For COPD patients, allergies pose the risk of serious complications. Learn some basic tips for avoiding allergy-related complications of COPD in this slideshow.
Famous Athletes with Asthma
Famous Athletes with Asthma
Asthma shouldn’t be a barrier to staying active and fit. Learn about famous athletes who didn’t let asthma stop them from achieving their goals.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage COPD
Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage COPD
Leading a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in your COPD symptoms. Learn more about basic changes that will make it easier to manage your COPD.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement