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Rotator cuff tendinitis: 6 causes and 7 treatments



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Did you know that the most common cause of shoulder pain is rotator cuff tendinitis? Inflammation of tendons in the shoulder can cause rotator cuff tendinitis, a debilitating condition that can trigger acute and chronic pain in the shoulder if left untreated. Symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis can include:

  • Pain and swelling in the front of your shoulder and the side of your arm.
  • Pain triggered by raising or lowering your arm.
  • A clicking sound when raising your arm.
  • Stiffness in your shoulder area.
  • Pain in the shoulder area that causes you to wake from sleep.
  • Pain when reaching behind your back.
  • A loss of mobility and strength in your affected arm.

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, don’t wait to get treatment. Untreated rotator cuff tendinitis can get worse, so it’s important to start treatment as early as possible to speed up recovery. Let’s walk through some common causes of rotator cuff tendinitis and how physical therapy treatment can help you get your mobility back.

Common causes of rotator cuff tendinitis

With rotator cuff tendinitis, there isn’t always an obvious cause. Usually, this injury occurs over an extended period of time and most frequently happens in people who:

  • Have loose joints.
  • Do heavy or repetitive lifting above shoulder level.
  • Participate in activities such as swimming, baseball and tennis.
  • Have abnormal bone anatomy.
  • Sustain a shoulder injury. 
  • Have excess calcium in the shoulder tendons.

Repetitive motions such as lifting or moving the arm above the head can pinch the tendons of the rotator cuff between the upper part of the arm bone and a part of the shoulder blade called the acromion. This pinching of the tendons is often referred to as impingement and can occur in both younger and older people.

Treatments for rotator cuff tendinitis

There are a number of different treatments your physical therapist may use to treat your rotator cuff tendinitis. Recovery time for this injury can take as little as two to four weeks, although more serious cases may take several months to fully heal. Here are a few common techniques your physical therapist may use to help you recover your mobility:

  • Joint mobilizationJoint mobilization is a type of manual therapy that can be used to help treat rotator cuff injuries. Your physical therapist will use controlled movements of the shoulder joint to help restore your range of motion. This treatment can help alleviate stiffness in the shoulder joint, improve flexibility and reduce pain.
  • Graston Technique® — The Graston Technique is a specialized manual therapy technique that uses stainless steel instruments to apply targeted pressure to the affected tissue. The goal of this treatment is to help break down scar tissue, improve circulation and promote tissue healing. It can also help reduce pain and improve the range of motion of the shoulder.
  • Cupping therapyCupping is a technique where your physical therapist will place special cups on your skin to create a vacuum suction effect. This treatment is intended to increase blood flow, help tissue repair itself and reduce muscle tension, all of which can help heal rotator cuff injuries.
  • Electrical stimulation — Electrical stimulation uses low-level electrical currents to send electrical pulses into the muscles. This can help them spasm and release painful tension. The goal of this treatment is to reduce pain, improve circulation and promote muscle contraction. 
  • Dry needlingDry needling is a common pain management technique performed by licensed physical therapists. This technique involves your physical therapist inserting thin, sterile needles into trigger points in affected muscles. The goal of this treatment is to alleviate pain, release tension, improve circulation and stimulate healing in the muscles.
  • Soft tissue mobilization — Soft tissue mobilization is a form of manual therapy where your physical therapist will use massage-like techniques to apply pressure to scar tissue or tight muscles. By applying deep pressure, the physical therapist can break up scar tissue and stretch tight muscles. This can release painful tension and fluid buildup in the tissue.
  • Targeted exercises — Strengthening the muscles in and around your shoulder is an important step to restore mobility in your shoulder if you have rotator cuff tendinitis. Your physical therapist can show you how to lift properly to avoid triggering your tendinitis and how to strengthen your muscles to reduce the risk of future injuries.

Your physical therapist can work with you to develop a unique treatment plan to decrease inflammation in your shoulder tendons and help you fully recover from your rotator cuff tendinitis. 

Shoulder pain from rotator cuff tendinitis doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you love. At REPAIR SI, our physical therapists are trained in a variety of methods that can ease shoulder pain due to rotator cuff tendinitis. When you’re ready to get started on your road to recovery, contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.