Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

The tendons of the rotator cuff pass underneath a bony area on their way to attaching the top part of the arm bone. When these tendons become inflamed, they can become frayed over this area during shoulder movements. Sometimes, a bone spur narrows the space even more.

Causes of this condition include:

  • Keeping the arm in the same position for long periods, such as doing computer work or hairstyling
  • Sleeping on the same arm each night
  • Playing sports requiring the arm to be moved overhead repeatedly such as in tennis, baseball (particularly pitching), swimming and lifting weights overhead
  • Working with the arm overhead for many hours or days, such as in painting and carpentry
  • Poor posture over many years
  • Aging
  • Rotator cuff tears

Early on, pain is mild and occurs with overhead activities and lifting your arm to the side. Pain is more likely in the front of the shoulder and may travel to the side of the arm, always stopping before the elbow. If the pain goes down the arm to the elbow and hand, this may indicate a pinched nerve in the neck. There may also be pain when you lower the shoulder from a raised position.

Over time, there may be pain at rest or at night, such as when lying on the affected shoulder. You may have weakness and loss of motion when raising the arm above your head. Your shoulder can feel stiff with lifting or movement. It may become more difficult to place the arm behind your back.

A physical examination may reveal tenderness over the shoulder. Pain may occur when the shoulder is raised overhead. There is usually weakness of the shoulder when it is placed in certain positions. Your doctor may evaluate your shoulder using X-ray, ultrasound or an MRI.

Treatments:

Follow your doctor's instructions on how to take care of your rotator cuff problem at home. Doing so can help relieve your symptoms so that you can return to sports or other activities.

Your doctor will likely advise you to rest your shoulder and avoid activities that cause pain. Other measures include:

  • Ice packs applied 20 minutes at a time, three to four times a day to the shoulder (protect the skin by wrapping the ice pack in a clean towel before applying).
  • Taking medicines, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Avoiding or reducing activities that cause or worsen your symptoms.
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles.
  • Medicine (corticosteroid) injected into the shoulder to reduce pain and swelling.
  • In severe cases, surgery (arthroscopy) to remove inflamed tissue and part of the bone that may impinge over the rotator cuff in order to relieve pressure on the tendons.