Rotator Cuff Tendinitis occurs when the tendons that connect the muscles and bones of your shoulder suffer a tear, or strain.
Your shoulder is a complex joint. It is composed of three major bones: the shoulder blade (scapula), the collarbone (clavicle), and the upper arm (humerus). In addition, a network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments supports and connects these bones.
Known as a “ball and socket” joint, your shoulder is key in facilitating the movements of your arms. The round, ball-like head of the humerus fits into a shallow cavity—or socket—in the shoulder blade. However, it is your rotator cuff—a system of interweaving muscles and tendons—that reinforces this joint. This clever structure provides the additional support to attach your arms securely to your shoulder joint. And, the flexibility of these muscles and tendons enables you to execute a wide range of smooth movements.
Your rotator cuff itself is composed of four main muscles and their four connecting tendons. When you think about all of the different directions that you can move your arms, and all of the tasks that you can complete with your hands, the importance of this joint comes into focus. If you have ever had a hand or arm injury, you already have firsthand experience of what it’s like to lose this mobility.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
Because we use this joint so extensively every day, injuries to the rotator cuff are common. Furthermore, the most common injury to this joint is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis. This painful condition occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become pulled, ripped, or strained. Tears may develop instantaneously during a traumatic event. Or, a strain can develop over time as an individual continues to use a previously damaged or weakened tendon.
Common causes of rotator cuff tendinitis include:
For some, even everyday movements—such as reaching for an item in the back seat—can cause rotator cuff tendinitis.
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The symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis can vary from person to person. However, the symptoms can closely resemble other conditions of the shoulder. Take an inventory of the types of activities that you’ve been participating in recently. And, pay attention to the clues that your shoulder is giving you. Some of the possible symptoms that you may encounter this condition include:
Localized Pain: Pain may range from dull to throbbing. However, discomfort will most likely be felt on the front or top of the shoulder.
Radiating Pain: Soreness, throbbing, or stabbing pain may radiate from the outside of your upper arm to the top of your shoulder (or vice versa).
Pain with Movement: Pain may intensify when moving the arm above the shoulder or when reaching behind yourself. The shoulder may be pain-free when your arm is resting by your side in a neutral position.
Increased Pain at Night: Pain can increase when laying on the affected shoulder or shifting in bed. This discomfort can lead to loss of sleep or affect your daily functioning.
Remember, the symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis can be very similar to other conditions of the shoulder. Because of this similarity, self-diagnosis without physician assistance is not recommended. Only your physician can provide you with a decisive diagnosis and treat your condition appropriately. With proper medical intervention, you can achieve long-lasting health and effective pain relief. Contact our award-winning team at NJ Spine & Orthopedic today to receive a thorough evaluation. Our board certified orthopedic surgeons will recommend individualized solutions to resolve your shoulder pain.
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Your doctor will treat mild to moderate rotator cuff tendinitis with an initial regimen of ice and heat application to the affected shoulder. Ice can be used for the first 2-3 days, applied several times a day for 15-20 minutes each time. For the next few days, replace ice with a heating pad, applied according to the same schedule. Rest is also important for tendinitis to avoid additional strain to the tendon.
If these techniques—combined with the use of anti-inflammatory NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen—do not alleviate the pain—seek the guidance of a professional. Untreated tendinitis can lead to long-term symptoms, like degeneration of the tendon (or Tendinosis).
Diagnosing Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
As previously stated, the shoulder is an exceptionally complex joint. Because of the sheer number of muscles, bones, and tissues that inhabit this space, many shoulder injuries are possible. The first step toward diagnosing your symptoms should always begin with a doctor’s visit. Your physician will perform a physical examination and evaluate your medical history. Likewise, your doctor may perform x-rays to eliminate other conditions, such as arthritis or bone spurs, that produce similar symptoms. Of similar effectiveness, your physician may order an MRI to visualize the damaged tissues in your shoulder joint. If the rotator cuff proves to be the source of your pain, then further treatment options will be pursued.
Additional Treatment Options for Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
Corticosteroid Injections: Corticosteroid injections are a conventional form of pain management for shoulder injury relief. These injections target the inflammation and pain, providing short-term relief for troubling symptoms.
Physical Therapy: Used primarily as a complementary form of treatment, a physical therapist will help you devise a stretching and exercise routine. Enhanced musculoskeletal fitness can return flexibility and strength to your shoulder, while delivering pain relief.
All-Arthroscopic Repair: If your rotator cuff tendinitis requires surgical intervention to repair, your doctor may recommend an all-arthroscopic repair. This true minimally invasive procedure relies on the use of an arthroscope, or flexible camera, to guide your surgeon. Your doctor will insert the arthroscope at the time of surgery and project images of the damaged shoulder tissue onto a much larger screen. Using this advanced visualization technique and tiny instruments, your surgeon will make the smallest possible incision(s) to resolve your pain. Because this procedure is minimally invasive, your recovery time will be greatly reduced when compared to traditional “open repair” methods.
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Effective pain relief; less scarring— a postage stamp-sized incision (less than an inch in length) is often all that it takes to eliminate your pain.
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