What is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis?

Alex Paul
Alex Paul

Rotator cuff tendinitis is an overuse injury that occurs in muscles of the shoulder. The rotator cuff muscles help to hold the shoulder joint in its socket. When one or more of these tendons becomes inflamed, it can cause pain and in some cases a tear if not allowed to heal. Symptoms of this type of tendinitis include pain when moving the shoulder, pain when lying on the shoulder at night and a feeling of weakness when trying to raise the arm above the head. Treatment for rotator cuff tendinitis depends on the severity of the condition but usually involves conservative techniques such as rest, ice and strengthening exercises.

Baseball pitchers are prone to developing rotator cuff tendinitis.
Baseball pitchers are prone to developing rotator cuff tendinitis.

There are a number of potential causes of rotator cuff tendinitis. As with many overuse injuries, the condition is most likely to affect athletes who have to perform large numbers of repetition of a particular movement. For example, a baseball pitcher may suffer from tendinitis in the shoulder due to the repeated high velocity movement. Other athletes who are at risk include swimmers and weight lifters.

A patient may need an MRI to diagnose rotator cuff tendinitis.
A patient may need an MRI to diagnose rotator cuff tendinitis.

The most common symptom of rotator cuff tendinitis is pain in the shoulder. This may be a localized pain or more diffuse, depending on the condition. Often the pain is more noticeable at night time and may make the muscles feel weak. For example, activities such as picking a book off a high shelf may become more difficult.

The most common symptom of rotator cuff tendinitis is pain in the shoulder.
The most common symptom of rotator cuff tendinitis is pain in the shoulder.

Diagnosis of rotator cuff tendinitis can usually be achieved with a simple physical exam. Tenderness in the region of the rotator cuff as well as pain during certain exercises can signify the condition. An MRI is sometimes required to correctly diagnose the condition or to check for a tear in the muscle.

Treatment for the condition usually starts with resting the shoulder as much as possible. Continuing the activities that caused the problem usually make it worse. Physical therapy is important for a full recovery from tendinitis although this may not be possible straight away depending on the patient's pain level. If physical therapy cannot be started straight away, an injection or longer rest may be required.

Although conservative treatment is often effective for rotator cuff tendinitis, surgery may be required. This is typically the case if a tendon has ruptured or if the symptoms continue even after prolonged therapy. In such situations, arthroscopic surgery can be used to repair the tear and remove tissue that is chronically inflamed.

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    • Baseball pitchers are prone to developing rotator cuff tendinitis.
      Baseball pitchers are prone to developing rotator cuff tendinitis.
    • A patient may need an MRI to diagnose rotator cuff tendinitis.
      A patient may need an MRI to diagnose rotator cuff tendinitis.
    • The most common symptom of rotator cuff tendinitis is pain in the shoulder.
      The most common symptom of rotator cuff tendinitis is pain in the shoulder.