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Rotator Cuff Tendinitis


What is rotator cuff tendinitis?

Rotator cuff tendinitis is inflammation of the tendons in your shoulder joint. A tendon is a cord of tough tissue that connects your muscles to your bones. The rotator cuff is made up of a group of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place.

What causes rotator cuff tendinitis?

  • Overuse: This happens from too much shoulder activity. Overuse commonly happens to athletes, such as baseball pitchers, swimmers, and tennis players. You may also develop this condition if you frequently have to work with your arms overhead.
  • Impingement: This injury happens when the arm bone moves up and traps the tendon. Falls, incorrect arm movements, and weak shoulder muscles may cause impingement. This may also happen if you overtrain for sports or have a sudden change in arm or shoulder activity.
  • Calcium deposits: Calcium may deposit in the tendons and cause irritation and inflammation of the tendon.

What are the signs and symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis?

You have pain and swelling in your shoulder, especially when you lift your arm over your head. The pain may be worse after you sleep on the affected shoulder. Over time, the pain can become worse and you may have pain even when you are resting. Your shoulder and arm may also be weak.

How is rotator cuff tendinitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may test your shoulder by moving your arm in different directions and raising it over your head.

  • A joint x-ray is a picture of the bones and tissues in your joints. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your shoulder. An MRI may be used to look for tendon injuries or other problems. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound of your shoulder may be done to look for damage to your tendons.

How is rotator cuff tendinitis treated?

  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.
    • Steroids: This medicine may be injected into the rotator cuff area to decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery if the pain and tightening in your shoulder do not go away. This may also be done if pain worsens or is so severe that it affects your daily activities. During surgery, your healthcare provider may remove bone spurs and inflamed tissue around the shoulder.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. The exercises may help you move your shoulder normally again and strengthen your rotator cuff. You may also learn other exercises, such as stretching and strengthening of your shoulder muscles. You may learn changes to make to your daily activities that will help decrease stress on your tendons.

How can I care for my rotator cuff tendinitis at home?

  • Rest: Limit activity on your affected shoulder to decrease stress on the tendon. This may help prevent further damage, decrease pain, and promote healing.
  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Shoulder position: Keep your shoulder in the correct position so it will heal faster. This may be done by increasing the height of armrests while you work, drive, and sit. Try not to sleep on the side of your injured shoulder. If you are a woman, wear a sports bra so that the straps are closer to your neck. This may help decrease stress in the affected shoulder.

What are the risks of rotator cuff tendinitis?

You could get an infection or bleed more than expected with surgery. Even after treatment, the shoulder may not move the way it did before. Without treatment, rotator cuff tendinitis may cause further problems with your arms and shoulders. You may not be able to do your usual physical activities.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have pain and swelling in your shoulder even after you take pain medicine.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • Your symptoms are not getting better or are getting worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have sudden shortness of breath or chest pain.
  • Any part of your arm is numb, tingly, cold, blue, or pale.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.