According to the American Academy of Sports Medicine, more than 8 million Americans visit the doctor for shoulder pain each year. More than half of those will experience a problem with their rotator cuff. In particular, rotator cuff tendonitis is one condition that can result in a great deal of shoulder pain. To protect yourself, learn to identify the signs of rotator cuff tendonitis as well as what you should do about it.

Overview of the Shoulder Anatomy

The humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade) in order to form the shoulder. Surrounding this ball-and-socket joint is a collection of muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff provides support for the shoulder, while allowing it to perform a variety of movements.

A sac of fluid called the bursa sits inside the rotator cuff. It helps lubricate tendons and provides cushioning to safeguard against tears.

What is Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

Sometimes referred to as impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tendonitis occurs when any of the tendons in the rotator cuff become inflamed or irritated. This is characterized by pain in the shoulder, swelling, and a limited range of motion.

When tendons become inflamed, they will lose all or part of their flexibility. This means they are therefore unable to fully protect your shoulder. Accordingly, the condition can make you more susceptible to injury in addition to causing pain and limiting your range of motion.

Common Tendonitis Symptoms

How can you tell if you have rotator cuff tendonitis or another shoulder injury? If you have tendonitis, you may exhibit certain symptoms such as:

  • Swelling in the upper arm or shoulder
  • Pain, particularly when raising or lowering your arm
  • A stiff or “frozen” shoulder
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Overall shoulder weakness
  • Clicking sounds in the shoulder joint when moving the arm

In many cases, symptoms are rather mild in the beginning and continue to worsen over time. Other times, you may notice an improvement in rotator cuff tendonitis, only to have your symptoms return a short time later.

In any case, you should not experience any pain or swelling in the neck, back, or lower arm. If you do, this indicates you have an entirely different problem that you should seek medical attention for immediately.

What Causes Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

The shoulder can perform a wide range of motion because the scapula and humerus fit together very loosely. Unfortunately, this also means that it is highly susceptible to injury. Aging also plays a role, as your tendons tend to lose elasticity as you grow older. As such, they are more susceptible to tearing or inflammation.

Some other things that may cause rotator cuff tendonitis include:

  • Repetitive motion such as throwing a softball, swinging a tennis racket, or smacking a golf ball.
  • Lifting too heavy of weights, or performing too many repetitions with lighter dumbbells.
  • Dislocating the shoulder due to injury.
  • Shoulder bursitis, which involves inflammation of the bursa sac.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its joints.
  • Bone spurs that rub against the tendons and cause irritation.

Physical Therapy Options

If you suffer from rotator cuff tendonitis, it is possible to obtain relief through physical therapy. Although it is usually recommended following surgery, you can often benefit even if a procedure is not required. Through a qualified treatment plan, many people are able to fully regain the use of their shoulders, while strengthening the rotator cuff to prevent further injury.

Are you displaying any symptoms of rotator cuff tendonitis? If so, please contact us here at Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation by calling 570-208-2787.