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Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

The Rochester Regional Health Spine and Pain Center offers evaluation and treatment services for rotator cuff tendonitis. Learn more about rotator cuff tendonitis, possible causes, and how our expert team evaluates and treats this condition below.

What is Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Pain?

The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons that covers the humeral head and controls arm rotation and elevation. These muscles and their tendons work together with the deltoid muscle to provide motion and strength to the shoulder for all waist-level and shoulder-level or above activities. 

Rotator cuff tendonitis is an inflammation of the rotator cuff, coupled together with an inflammation of the lubrication mechanism called the bursa. This condition is often caused by repetitive overhead activities such as throwing, raking, washing cars, and many other types of highly-repetitive motions. It may also occur as a result of sudden injury or degeneration. 

Rotator cuff injuries are the most common cause of shoulder pain and limitation of activities in sports for people of all ages. Rotator cuff tendonitis is the mildest form of rotator cuff injury. 

Common Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

The rotator cuff is sandwiched between bones, and the rotator muscles fray with repeated rubbing against the bones. As the muscle begins to fray, it responds to the injury by becoming inflamed and painful. With continued fraying, like a rope, it may eventually tear.

Traditional symptoms include a toothache-like pain radiating from the outer arm to several inches below the top of the shoulder. This pain may interfere with sleeping comfortably, and may even awaken people from a sound sleep with a nagging pain in the upper arm.

Symptoms are usually aggravated by raising the arms overhead or by activities that require reaching behind the body. Furthermore, reaching behind the back to fasten underclothing or to pass a belt around the body may aggravate the arm and shoulder pain. 

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Treatment

A thorough history and physical exam with your Spine and Pain Center provider will nearly always lead to an effective diagnosis. X-rays often show changes on the arm bone where the rotator cuff muscles attach, but an MRI provides the definitive diagnosis.

The following steps should be taken as a conservative approach to treating rotator cuff tendonitis: 

  • Stop or markedly decrease activities that require the use of the injured shoulder
  • Apply ice to the affected area
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce arm and shoulder pain
  • Avoid carrying heavy objects with the affected arm or using a shoulder-strap bag on the affected side.

Before damage to the rotator cuff is too extensive, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen may provide benefit. In order for the inflammation to go down, it is vital to curtail any repetitive activity and to try to keep the elbow below the shoulder when using the injured arm.

To learn more or to make an appointment, call (585) 723-7705.

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