Rotator Cuff Injuries & Care

Rotator cuff tendonitis occurs when the tendons and muscles that help move the shoulder joint are inflamed or irritated. This condition commonly occurs in people who play sports that frequently require extending the arm over the head, such as tennis, swimming and pitching. Most people with rotator cuff tendinitis can regain full function of the shoulder without any pain after treatment.

Rotator cuff 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 impingement syndrome.

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 the head. Sometimes, rotator cuff tendinitis can occur without any known cause.

Rotator Cuff Symptoms Worsen Over Time

The 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 of rotator cuff tendinitis include:

  • Pain triggered by raising or lowering the arm
  • A clicking sound when raising the arm
  • Stiffness
  • Pain and swelling in the front of the shoulder and side of 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 arm

How Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Diagnosed?

Your orthopedic physician will begin by examining your shoulder to see where you’re feeling pain and tenderness. Your doctor will also test your range of motion and the strength of your shoulder joint. 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 orthopedic physician 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 physical therapy and steroids

If nonsurgical treatment isn’t successful, your orthopedic physician 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 surgeon will insert various instruments. One of these instruments will have a camera, so your surgeon can view the damaged tissue through the small incisions.

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

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