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Rotator cuff tendinitis, which is also called shoulder tendinitis, is a painful disorder caused by inflammation of tendons in the shoulder joint. The pain is generally felt in the top outer part of the shoulder, and it’s experienced more acutely when a person tries to perform particular actions. Rotator cuff tendinitis can be progressive in nature, often starting as a minor level of discomfort and eventually becoming more disabling. It is caused by overworking the shoulder joint, and the problems can develop suddenly or gradually over time.
The rotator cuff is a group of four separate tendons that surround the shoulder area. All these tendons work together, allowing for the wide range of motion the shoulder can perform. Tendons are known to be significantly less elastic than muscles, and they also usually take longer to heal. Certain physical activities can gradually cause tiny micro-tears in the tendons and muscles throughout the body, and they generally heal pretty quickly—but without rest, they can worsen. Eventually, the tissue may become inflamed, and when this happens in tendons, it is called tendinitis.
There are several activities that tend to increase the risk of rotator cuff tendinitis, including certain sports that require participants to lift their hands above their heads. Individuals with jobs that overwork their shoulders are also at a higher risk, and there is a general increase in risk as a person ages. Patients with rotator cuff tendinitis will have pain when trying to lift their arms. This pain will sometimes spread all the way down to the elbow. They may also experience discomfort when they lie down on their shoulder, and the joint can sometimes be especially weak when they try to lift heavy objects.
If a person is diagnosed with rotator cuff tendinitis, responding appropriately is very important—without treatment, the problem can progress and may even result in a tear of the rotator cuff. The most important part of treatment is to rest the joint, but it’s also important not to over-rest it, because there is always a danger of atrophy. As the shoulder starts to heal, patients will usually be asked to perform stretching exercises to keep the joint flexible and, eventually, strength exercises to help regain any lost muscle. Massage therapy and cortisone shots are other common treatments and, in extreme cases, surgery may be required, especially if there has been a rotator cuff tear.