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Shoulder Tendonitis/ Tendinitis

Shoulder Tendonitis (or Tendinitis… it’s the same thing. Don’t ask me why it is spelled both ways. I don’t know.) is an overuse injury caused by an inflammation of the tendons in and around your shoulder. Many times, it is a tendon of one of the Rotator Cuff Muscles. A tendon is a flexible band of fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Most tendonitis is a result of a wearing down of the tendon that occurs slowly over time, much like the wearing process on the soles of shoes, where eventually they will split from overuse. This happens much faster when the use is not balanced.

Along with shoulder bursitis, shoulder tendonitis is a frequent cause for shoulder complaints, and it’s the most common condition responsible for shoulder tendon pain in people over the age of 40.

What are the risk factors?

The number 1 cause is overuse, especially uneven use. This means the tendons in the shoulder (most commonly the rotator cuff) are overworked, and it is beyond what they can handle. Some work too hard, and some work not enough, and over time they eventually become damaged.

In most cases, this occurs from participating in certain sports and overhead activities that require the arm to move over the head repeatedly. Improper technique in any sport is one of the primary causes of overload on tissues including tendons, which can lead to tendonitis.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete or a house painter to develop this condition. Anyone with a job that requires overhead work or heavy lifting is at an increased risk, but anyone can develop tendonitis from repetitive use of these tendons.

Other common risk factors include:

  • Poor posture, such as rounded shoulders, which some people get from leaning over a  computer or driving for extended periods  of time. 

     Think: Poor Posture + A Netflix binge + sleeping on the couch = a good recipe for pain!

  • Tight muscles and tissues around the shoulder joint

  • Weakness or imbalance of the muscles in and around the shoulder​

What does it feel like?

Tendonitis can be mild inflammation or it can be severe inflammation and how much it hurts, and for how long depend on how badly you’ve hurt yourself! Many daily activities, like combing your hair, or getting dressed, may become difficult.


Symptoms may include:

  • Shoulder clicking and/or an arc of shoulder pain when your arm is up at about shoulder height

  • Pain when lying on the hurting shoulder or lifting something with a straight arm

  • Pain or clicking when you move your hand behind your back or behind your head

  • As your condition gets worse, your pain may not go away with rest, anymore


How is Shoulder Tendonitis treated?

If you start to notice symptoms of Shoulder Tendonitis with pain that prevents you from functioning normally, and it lasts for more than a week or two, see a doctor or musculoskeletal specialist as soon as possible. While the condition is typically very treatable, the sooner you seek treatment, the greater your chances of recovering.

Traditional treatment goals include reducing the pain and inflammation, as well as keeping the joint from being limited in how it can move and preventing disability and repeated injury.

Traditional treatments may include:

  • A combination of rest, wrapping, and use of ice packs for recent or severe injuries

  • Drugs are used to reduce swelling (like Aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen)

  • If the bursa is swollen, a steroid injection may be suggested (Cortisone)

  • Physical therapy and strengthening exercises to aid the recovery, especially if it is coupled with frozen shoulder 

  • Surgery may be needed if the tendon has been partially or completely torn.​

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