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Shoulder Tendonitis (Rotator Cuff Tendinitis)

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Recover from shoulder tendonitis or rotator cuff tendinitis with the latest non-surgical treatment options, including physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, and regenerative medicine procedures such as Prolotherapy. Our providers of Downtown Pain Physicians are experts in treating shoulder pain and can pinpoint the source of the pain, prescribe a personalized, time-tested treatment plan that works. Visit our sports injury and pain management center to meet our physicians to get the shoulder pain relief you need in the safe, reassuring hands of the best doctors in New York.

Shoulder tendonitis


Shoulder tendonitis or rotator cuff tendinitis affects the muscles and tendons which aid in moving the shoulder joint. When you suffer from tendinitis, the tendons are either irritated or inflamed. Shoulder tendonitis is other referred to as impingement syndrome. It is a condition that typically progresses over time.

It can either be caused by keeping the shoulder in one position for a long time, sleeping on one side every night, or taking part in activities that require lifting the arm over your head frequently. Athletes who play sports that require lifting the arm over the head frequently are at an increased risk of developing shoulder tendonitis.

This is why other names for shoulder tendonitis are swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder, or pitcher’s shoulder. There are also cases of shoulder tendonitis where the condition occurs without a known cause. Most people who suffer from shoulder tendonitis can gain back their full function of the shoulder without pain.

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The beginning stages of a shoulder tendonitis treatment involve managing the symptoms, such as swelling and pain, and promoting healing. This includes avoiding doing activities that lead to pain, applying an ice pack to the shoulder three to four times a day, which can help to reduce swelling, or taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, which can help to manage the pain and the swelling.

What symptoms does tendonitis in the shoulder lead to?

Tendonitis shoulder can lead to symptoms that can worsen over time. Initial symptoms might be resolved with resting, however as the condition progresses, the symptoms might become chronic.

There are also cases where the symptoms go past the elbow and can be an indicator of a different underlying issue. Some of the symptoms of tendonitis in the shoulder include:

  • tendonitis shoulder pain
  • swelling which affects the side of the arm and front of the shoulder
  • stiffness
  • clicking sound whenever you raise the arm
  • pain which occurs once you raise or lower the arm
  • pain which doesn’t let you sleep and wakes you up
  • pain which occurs whenever you reach behind the back
  • loss of strength and mobility in the affected arm

What does diagnosing shoulder tendonitis look like?

If you suffer from symptoms of tendonitis shoulder, your doctor will first perform a physical exam of your shoulder. Your doctor checks whether you experience pain and tenderness, your range of motion, as well as strength of the shoulder.

You might be asked to move the arm in certain directions or to press against their hand. Your doctor might also use the physical exam to rule out other conditions that lead to similar symptoms, such as arthritis or a pinched nerve.

Further imaging tests might be necessary to confirm shoulder tendonitis and rule out other conditions, such as:

  • ultrasound scan
  • X-ray
  • MRI scan

An ultrasound scan or an MRI can help to check whether there is an inflammation in the rotator cuff or a sign of tearing, whereas an X-ray can help to check whether there is any bone spurs present.

What does treatment for shoulder tendonitis look like?

Managing your symptoms.
The beginning stages of a shoulder tendonitis treatment involve managing the symptoms, such as swelling and pain, and promoting healing. This includes avoiding doing activities that lead to pain, applying an ice pack to the shoulder three to four times a day, which can help to reduce swelling, or taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, which can help to manage the pain and the swelling.

Additional tendonitis shoulder treatment options include:

Physical therapy.
A physical therapist can help to show you passive exercises and stretches which can help to ease the pain and restore range of motion. Once you can control the pain that the condition causes, your physical therapist can show you what exercises can best help you to regain strength in the shoulder and your arm.

Steroid injections.
Steroid injection is especially helpful when other options of treatment for shoulder tendonitis haven’t worked. Steroid injection is injected directly into the affected tendon, which can reduce the inflammation and therefore the pain.

Prolotherapy is a regenerative medicine procedure that utilizes the body’s healing response to improve injuries, shoulder pain, and other conditions.

Most people can recover from tendonitis shoulder with the help of conservative treatment options. Whenever such options aren’t successful, you might need rotator cuff surgery. One type of surgery for shoulder tendonitis is via arthroscopy, which is also the most noninvasive type of shoulder surgery.

During arthroscopy surgery, two or three small cuts are done around the shoulder. Such cuts are used to insert various instruments. One of them has a camera, which allows the surgeon to get a better look at the damaged tissue.

Shoulder tendonitis typically doesn’t involve open shoulder surgery. This surgical approach is rather used in cases where you also suffer from other issues in the shoulder, such as a large tendon tear.

Recovering from shoulder tendonitis surgery means resting and undergoing physical therapy, which can help to regain strength and range of motion.

There are tendonitis shoulder treatment options that you can do at home and can help to manage the pain. They can also help prevent future injuries. If you do a lot of repetitive activities, you must take frequent breaks. When you’re sitting down, practice food posture. Avoid having to lift the arms over your head repetitively. Do your best to not carry a bag on one shoulder only or sleep every night on the same side. Stretch your shoulders a couple of times throughout the day and carry things close to the body.

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When to speak to a doctor

You must speak to your local pain medicine provider in cases where you suffer from pain that worsens or doesn’t go away even after a long time. If it gets more difficult for you to move the affected arm or the pain disrupts your sleep, it is time to make an appointment with your doctor. The same applies to cases where the pain and discomfort are so severe that you no longer can go on with your daily activities. Numbness and tingling in the arms and hands are other signs of necessary medical attention.

Can shoulder tendonitis lead to complications?

If you don’t seek medical treatment, complications can occur, such as loss of motion and strength in the affected arm, pain that doesn’t allow you to sleep, and issues doing things that require you to move the arm overhead or behind the back. This can include simple things such as fastening zippers or buttons or storing objects in higher places.

For more information about shoulder tendonitis treatment or to schedule an appointment with the top-rated sports medicine physician in Downtown, Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan, please call our office for a consultation and indicate which location you want to visit.

This page was published on Mar 16, 2021, modified on Jul 12, 2021 by Dr. Raj Raval, MD (Pain Management Doctor)

The information on this website is to provide general information. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive treatment advice. It is essential to consult a best-in-class pain management specialist in New York regarding ANY questions or issues. A thorough evaluation should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call your pain doctor to schedule a consultation.

  • Dr. Raj Raval, M.D.

    1. Board Certified
    2. Interventional Pain & Musculoskeletal Medicine Specialist
  • Education & training

    1. SUNY Downstate PMR Residency
    2. Rutgers University Fellowship
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