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Understanding Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Written By: Dr. Ray SH Ng

If you've ever had persistent shoulder pain, especially when elevating your arm, you may have had rotator cuff tendonitis. Millions of people worldwide are affected by this condition, which has a substantial influence on their daily activities and general quality of life. In this blog post, we'll delve into the complexities of rotator cuff tendinitis, looking at its causes, symptoms, and treatment choices. 

An Introduction to Rotator Cuff Tendinitis 

Rotator cuff tendinitis, also known as shoulder impingement syndrome, is a disorder caused by inflammation of the tendons and muscles that comprise the rotator cuff - a set of four muscles and their tendons that stabilise and move the shoulder joint. These muscles, which include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, collaborate to allow for a wide range of arm motions.  

The major function of the rotator cuff is to retain the head of your upper arm bone (humerus) firmly into the shallow socket of your shoulder (glenoid). Rotator cuff tendinitis is a condition that occurs when these tendons or muscles become inflamed or irritated. This inflammation can cause a wide range of symptoms, from minor discomfort to severe pain and restricted range of motion. This issue can worsen if not treated promptly, leading to a more serious ailment known as a rotator cuff tear. 


The Causes: Why Does Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Occur?

Rotator cuff tendinitis is caused mostly by overuse or strain on the shoulder, particularly when the arm is elevated overhead. Athletes who frequently participate in activities requiring overhead motions, such as tennis, swimming, or baseball, are more vulnerable to this illness. Repetitive movement can cause tendons to wear and tear over time, resulting in inflammation and pain.  

Painting, carpentry, and certain forms of factory labor, for example, all include frequent overhead lifting or job activities, which increases the chance of developing rotator cuff tendonitis. The constant tension on the shoulder caused by these activities might cause wear and tear comparable to what is seen in athletes.  

Another important element that leads to the onset of this illness is age. Tendons typically deteriorate and lose flexibility as we age, leaving them more prone to injury and inflammation. As a result, rotator cuff tendinitis is more common in older people, particularly those over the age of 40.  

In addition to these causes, bone spurs - bony growths that can form along the borders of bones - can induce rotator cuff tendinitis. During movement, these spurs can cause friction against the tendons, resulting in inflammation and, eventually, tendinitis. 

Pre-existing shoulder injuries or anatomical differences can also contribute to this disease. Some persons, for example, may have a naturally narrow subacromial gap (the region through which the rotator cuff tendons pass), resulting in higher friction between the tendons and surrounding tissues. 


Symptoms: Recognising Rotator Cuff Tendinitis 

Identifying the signs of rotator cuff tendonitis is an important step toward receiving proper treatment. The most typical symptom is chronic shoulder pain, particularly when performing overhead actions such as lifting your arm, reaching behind your back, or reaching. Another common symptom is pain that intensifies at night, particularly when laying on the afflicted shoulder.  

Other symptoms include a gradual increase in discomfort or soreness over time, trouble doing activities that require reaching overhead or behind your back, feelings of weakness or sensitivity in the shoulder, and a loss of shoulder range of motion. 

It's important to note that these symptoms can potentially be indicative of other shoulder problems, so seek medical attention if they persist. Early detection and treatment can help to prevent future damage and improve outcomes. 



Rotator cuff tendinitis may be diagnosed by assessing the patient’s history and through clinical examination by the doctor.  To further aid in the diagnosis, imaging may sometimes be helpful:  

Ultrasound Exam:

If there are signs of pain and weakness of the major rotator cuff muscles, the ultrasound scan can detect tendon or muscle fiber tears. This may be performed by a doctor familiar with Ultrasound scanning which can be done in the clinic environment. This is relatively quick and inexpensive. 

MRI Exam:

Alternatively, MRI scans may be performed which can provide a look at the deeper structures of the shoulder joint.  


Treatment Options: Navigating the Path to Recovery

The treatment for rotator cuff tendinitis is determined on the severity of the condition as well as the patient's overall health. Here are some of the most prevalent treatment methods:  

#1: Rest and Activity Modification 

Reducing or eliminating activities that aggravate rotator cuff tendonitis is frequently the initial step in treatment. This could imply taking a break from sports or jobs that require a lot of overhead movement.

#2: Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of treating and managing rotator cuff tendonitis. A physical therapist will walk you through exercises meant to restore flexibility and strength to your shoulder, enhance range of motion, and alleviate pain.

#3: Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be used to treat pain and reduce inflammation. 

#4: Corticosteroid Injections

A healthcare physician may recommend corticosteroid injections for severe pain. These can provide short pain relief and reduce inflammation in the shoulder area. 

#5: Surgical Intervention 

In extreme cases or when other therapies have failed, surgery may be required. The specific surgical procedure will be determined by the extent of the rotator cuff damage, the patient's overall health, and the surgeon's discretion.

#6: Home Remedies 

In addition to medical therapies, there are home remedies that can help with recuperation.  Also, avoiding sleeping on the affected side can help lessen nighttime discomfort. 


To summarise, while rotator cuff tendinitis can be a difficult condition to treat, it is crucial to remember that it is manageable and, with the proper approach, recoverable. Understanding the ailment, its causes, and symptoms will assist you in seeking immediate medical advice and initiating suitable therapy.  

You can walk the path to recovery, regaining control of your health, and returning to your regular activities with professional advice and adherence to the suggested treatment plan.  

This blog post is meant for general knowledge only and should not be used to replace medical advice. Always seek the advice of a healthcare expert for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 


Key Takeaways

Tendinitis of the rotator cuff is a frequent but curable illness. Understanding its causes, recognising the symptoms, and being aware of the many treatment choices will help you manage the disease and recover quickly. Remember that early diagnosis and treatment generally result in better outcomes, so get medical attention if you have chronic shoulder pain or other signs of rotator cuff tendonitis.  

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Lewis, J. S. (2009). Rotator cuff tendinopathy: a model for the continuum of pathology and related management. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(13), 918–922.  

Michener, L. A., Walsworth, M. K., & Burnet, E. N. (2004). Effectiveness of rehabilitation for patients with subacromial impingement syndrome: a systematic review. Journal of Hand Therapy, 17(2), 152–164.  

Seitz, A. L., McClure, P. W., Finucane, S., Boardman, N. D., & Michener, L. A. (2011). Mechanisms of rotator cuff tendinopathy: intrinsic, extrinsic, or both? Clinical Biomechanics, 26(1), 1–12.  

Yamamoto, A., Takagishi, K., Osawa, T., Yanagawa, T., Nakajima, D., Shitara, H., & Kobayashi, T. (2010). Prevalence and risk factors of a rotator cuff tear in the general population. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 19(1), 116–120.  


Topics: General Practice / Family Medicine

Dr Ray SH Ng

Dr Ray SH Ng

Family Medicine, General Practice, Sports Medicine