What is shoulder tendonitis?

Shoulder tendonitis (tendinitis) is a degenerative condition where the tendons that surround the shoulder joints become inflamed or irritated. This condition typically affects the rotator cuff, so it is also known as rotator cuff tendonitis. Shoulder tendonitis is an overuse injury that can be caused by muscle imbalance and poor posture.

Causes of a shoulder tendonitis

Sports injuries are often the cause of shoulder tendonitis. Baseball players, swimmers, tennis players and golfers are often diagnosed with shoulder tendonitis due to the repetitive movements involved in their sports.

Also, occupations that require moving the arm over the head can cause shoulder tendonitis. Improper technique in sporting activities can also cause an overload on the tissues and contribute to tendinitis. Shoulder tendonitis can also be caused by landing on an outstretched arm.

Risk factors of shoulder tendonitis

Risk factors for shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Age — as you age, your tendons become less flexible.
  • Sports — if you participate in baseball, basketball, bowling or golf (or sports with similar repetitive movements), you are at higher risk to develop shoulder tendonitis.
  • Occupations — people who have occupations that involve repetitive motions, awkward positions, overhead reaching and powerful exertion are at higher risk to develop shoulder tendonitis.

Symptoms of shoulder tendonitis

Dull pain when moving the shoulder, tenderness and mild swelling are the most common symptoms of shoulder tendonitis. Typically, the symptoms are most prominent where the tendon attaches to the bone. Other symptoms of shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Stiffness
  • Loss of mobility in the shoulder area
  • Clicking sound when moving the shoulder

Without treatment or rest, symptoms of shoulder tendonitis get worse over time.

Diagnosis of shoulder tendonitis

Shoulder tendonitis can typically be diagnosed in a physical exam. He or she will examine your shoulder and take your medical history to determine what your symptoms are and what makes your symptoms worse. The doctor will also test your range of motion and strength in the shoulder.

In some cases, your doctor may order an x-ray to determine if you have other conditions such as a bone spur or an MRI to determine if you have any tissue tearing.

Treatment of shoulder tendonitis

Many patients can treat tendonitis at home with rest, ice and compression.

Nonsurgical treatments for shoulder tendonitis

  • Rest — it is important to avoid any activities that increase pain associated with shoulder tendonitis; although rest is important, complete inactivity can cause stiffness.
  • Ice — icing the shoulder for 20 minutes several times a day will relieve the pain and swelling associated with shoulder tendonitis.
  • Compression — wraps or elastic bandages around the shoulder can reduce swelling.
  • Medication — anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce swelling and pain from shoulder tendonitis.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation — physical therapy could include stretching and exercises to restore range of motion.
  • Steroid injection — a cortisone injection can be used to treat the inflammation and pain associated with a shoulder tendonitis
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy — concentrated samples of your own growth factors are injected back into your shoulder to enhance the tissue recovery, bone healing and wound healing.

Surgery for shoulder tendonitis

If nonsurgical treatments are unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend surgery. Most people have a full recovery after rotator cuff surgery.

  • Arthroscopy — shoulder is accessed through small incisions in the shoulder that are repaired via a camera and surgical instruments.
  • Open surgery — your doctor may recommend open surgery if you have multiple shoulder injuries.
  • Ultrasound-guided nerve hydrodissection
  • Ultrasound-guided percutaneous needle tenotomy (PNT)

Recovery from shoulder tendonitis

If you have treated shoulder tendonitis with nonsurgical methods, it will take at least six weeks for the injury to heal.

Following surgery, recovery will consist of rest and physical therapy. Your physical therapist will develop a treatment plan for your case. The goal of physical therapy is to strengthen and increase range of motion in the shoulder.

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