Shoulder Tendonitis

Shoulder tendonitis is a condition in which your rotator cuff and/or biceps tendon becomes irritated or inflamed.

  • Your rotator cuff is made up of the muscles and tendons in your shoulder that connect your upper arm bone (humerus) to your shoulder blade
  • The biceps tendon is a strong, cord-like structure that connects the biceps muscle to the bones in the shoulder

The job of these muscles and tendons is to keep your shoulder joint stable so that you can move your arm normally. When they become inflamed, however, pain in the front of your shoulder and weakness can occur. Inflammation—and related symptoms such as pain and tenderness—can range from mild to severe.

Shoulder tendonitis most commonly occurs as a result of overuse injuries, typically in people who play sports or do work that requires the arm to be repeatedly raised overhead. People most at risk include tennis players, swimmers, baseball players, painters, carpenters, and welders.

Treatment generally includes conservative measures such as rest, pain-relieving medications, strengthening exercises, and ultrasound therapy. Surgery is only indicated in severe cases.

Left untreated, shoulder tendonitis can cause complications such as chronic pain and immobility, which can lead to decreased strength and flexibility, limiting your ability to lift and simply carry out the activities of daily living. That’s why it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment if symptoms don’t go away after a few days or worsen.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Shoulder Tendonitis

Cooper University Health Care is home to a board-certified and fellowship-trained shoulder specialist as well as three sports medicine specialists—all with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating shoulder tendonitis. You can count on us for:

  • Advanced expertise: As South Jersey’s only tertiary care facility, we see some of the region’s most complex cases—a level of expertise you simply won’t find anyplace else in this area
  • Personalized treatment: Treatment is based on your age, general health, lifestyle, and severity of symptoms, with a focus on helping you eliminate pain, restore function, resume your regular activities, and prevent future problems
  • An excellent physical therapy team: The PT team works closely with our shoulder specialists for an integrated, well-coordinated approach to care

Shoulder Tendonitis Causes and Risk Factors

Shoulder tendonitis usually occurs as a result of sports or profession-related injuries related to repetitive use or overuse of the tendons, or from a sudden serious injury. Specifically:

  • Professional athletes—particularly baseball players, swimmers and tennis players—are susceptible to tendonitis in their shoulders due to the repetitive overhead motions of their sport. Improper technique can also cause overload on tendons, contributing to tendonitis.
  • People with jobs that require overhead work or heavy lifting (such as painters, construction workers) are at risk of tendinitis, but anyone can develop tendonitis from repetitive use of these tendons

Other causes of shoulder tendonitis can include:

  • A direct blow to the shoulder area or falling on an outstretched arm
  • Sleeping on the same side every night

Symptoms of Shoulder Tendonitis

While symptoms vary from individual to individual, the most common symptoms of shoulder tendonitis include:          

  • Pain or tenderness in the front of your shoulder and side of the arm
  • Pain that’s triggered by raising/lowering your arm or reaching behind your back
  • Pain that interrupts your sleep
  • Inability to hold your arm in certain positions
  • Arm/shoulder stiffness
  • A clicking sound when you raise your arm
  • Loss of mobility and strength in the affected arm

Treating Shoulder Tendonitis

Because the symptoms of shoulder tendonitis may resemble other conditions, it’s important to see a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Your doctor will take a thorough health history, perform a physical exam, and order appropriate tests, which will likely include diagnostic imaging, such as an x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.

Treatment for shoulder tendonitis is tailored to your unique situation and may include:

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that cause pain
  • Icing: Applying cold packs to the shoulder several times a day
  • Medications: Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and/or corticosteroid injections into the tendon to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening exercises to restore range of motion, ease pain and help you regain strength
  • Ultrasound therapy: Therapeutic ultrasound delivers heat to injured body parts not reached with topical heat packs
  • Surgery: When nonsurgical treatment doesn’t resolve symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. A minimally invasive approach called arthroscopy is commonly performed, and most people recover fully after this procedure. Open surgery generally is only used if there are large tendon tears.

It’s important to know that if shoulder tendonitis isn’t treated when the discomfort is relatively mild, complications may develop; these can include:               

  • Worsening loss of strength or motion in the affected arm
  • Difficulty carrying out everyday activities that require moving your injured arm behind your back or overhead, such as fastening zippers, or placing objects on a high shelf

Preventing Shoulder Tendonitis

There are steps you can take to prevent shoulder tendonitis or future pain flare-ups:

  • Avoid repetitive lifting over your head
  • Avoid sleeping on the same side every night
  • Don’t carry a bag/purse on the same shoulder all the time
  • Warm up and stretch before doing physical activities, especially if overhead movements are necessary
  • Ensure proper form when playing a sport
  • Stretch your shoulders throughout the day
  • Maintain proper posture during daily activities, especially when sitting
  • Keep your upper body (back and shoulders) strong and flexible with regular, targeted exercises

Make an Appointment With a Shoulder Tendonitis Expert

To learn more about the orthopaedic services available for treating shoulder tendonitis at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).