Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Shoulder pain is a common problem that can affect you at any age.

Your shoulder is formed by three bones that come together. These bones are your shoulder blade, or scapula; your collarbone, or clavicle; and the bone of your upper arm, which is called the humerus. Several tendons make up your rotator cuff. These tendons are attached to muscles in your back and shoulder. The tendons also attach to the top of your humerus to help keep it in your shoulder’s socket.

Tendonitis happens when your tendon gets inflamed. Injuries, infections, diabetes, and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can all cause rotator cuff tendonitis. However, it’s usually caused by long-term, repeated use from things like swimming or throwing a ball. The chance of getting rotator cuff tendonitis also increases with age.


Some of the symptoms you might get with rotator cuff tendonitis include:

  • Pain in your shoulder
  • Sudden or increased pain with activity
  • Decreased ability to move your shoulder, and
  • Weakness in your shoulder

To diagnose your problem, your provider will look for areas of tenderness and check your shoulder movement and strength.

Your provider might take a sample of the fluid from your shoulder or do blood tests. These tests can help find problems like infections.

If your pain doesn’t go away with treatment, you might be sent for imaging scans. These may include an ultrasound or an M-R-I scan.


The first step in treating tendonitis is RICE [“rice”]. It stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. RICE is part of the treatment for rotator cuff tendonitis. Rest means just that: Try to avoid using your shoulder. Apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, for the first couple of days, to help relieve pain and swelling. Wrap your shoulder with an elastic bandage to help reduce swelling. And keep your arm and shoulder propped up while applying ice.

Your provider might recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Many of these are available without a prescription. Naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin are examples of NSAIDs.

As your shoulder gets better, you might be given light stretches and exercises to do. Your provider might send you to a physical therapist for help with this.

If you continue having pain, a steroid injection into your shoulder might help. If these treatments don’t help, you may need surgery.

To avoid getting rotator cuff tendonitis, stretch and warm up before you exercise, and increase your activity level slowly. If you’re doing repetitive tasks, take breaks.

Things to Remember

Rotator cuff tendonitis can often be treated with rest, ice, compression, elevation, and nonprescription medications.

You should see your provider if you still have symptoms after the first few weeks, or sooner if your pain is severe.

You can reduce your risk of getting tendonitis by slowly increasing your activity level and protecting your joints.

What We Have Learned

  1. Pain in your knee is a common symptom of rotator cuff tendonitis. True or False?
    The answer is False.  Pain in your shoulder is a common symptom of rotator cuff tendonitis.

  2. Rotator cuff tendonitis can often be treated with rest, ice, compression, elevation, and nonprescription medicines. True or False?
    The answer is True. You can also take nonprescription medicines to help relieve the pain.