Managing Shoulder Tendinitis

Concerned that growing shoulder pain might be a serious injury? When it comes to playing sports and working out, shoulder injuries can sideline your routine quickly and without warning. Don’t get caught off guard when it comes to addressing shoulder pain – check out this quick and helpful guide to shoulder tendinitis:

Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Tendinitis

Tendinitis, or the inflammation of tendons in your shoulder joint, can inhibit range of motion as well as destabilize the rotator cuff. The way the shoulder joint is set up makes it one of the most powerful and mobile joints in the body. The scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collarbone) form a girdle for the shoulder joint, with the humerus (upper arm bone) inserted into a shallow socket (glenoid cavity) of the shoulder blade and held in place by connective muscles and tendons.

Extended movement of the arm relies on a fluid gliding of the shoulder blade along the back of your chest as well as stabilizing support of the rotator cuff muscles to keep the humerus in its socket. Both acute injury from a destabilizing action or sudden, unexpected strain or tearing, as well as prolonged and repeated use of the shoulder in the same motion can lead to painful inflammation and degeneration of these tendons. Rotator cuff tendinitis is common among baseball and softball pitchers, swimmers, tennis players, and other athletes who use the full rotating motion of the shoulder joint more than normal. Tendinitis symptoms include:

  • Pain when raising or lowering the arm, or when reaching behind your back

  • Visible swelling on the side of your arm and front of your shoulder

  • Shoulder joint stiffness

  • Weakness in arm

  • Limited range of shoulder motion

  • Clicking sound when raising your arm

Potential other causes of shoulder pain might include impingement, where the top of the shoulder blade (acromonium) pinches the rotator cuff tendons, tendon tears, dislocation of the arm bone out of the shoulder joint, and bursitis. Bursa sacs, or fluid filled sacs in joints like the shoulder, help prevent friction when muscles rub against bone. Bursitis occurs when one or more of those bursa sacs becomes inflamed.

How is Shoulder Tendinitis Treated?

When you seek medical attention for sharp or chronic shoulder pain, a doctor may first discuss medical history with you to rule out the potential for other causes of your symptoms, like arthritis. A physical examination of the afflicted area, as well as imaging tests (MRIs, x-rays, CTs), will provide insight into the cause of your shoulder pain as well as help generate a diagnosis and plan for treatment.

Fortunately, most shoulder injuries of this nature heal without the need for surgery or other invasive procedures. Common treatment options include:

Rest – alleviating stress on the shoulder joint to allow for healing may require multiple weeks of resting your arm and shoulder and avoiding motions which exacerbate the injury. A doctor may even recommend you keep your arm in a sling or brace to avoid overuse.

Ice TherapyIcing down shoulders with an ice bath or application of an ice pack can provide temporary pain relief and reduce inflammation by constricting blood vessels and numbing spasming nerve endings. Ice therapy may be used for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, up to 4 times a day as needed.

Physical Therapy – strategic physical therapy will involve stretches and exercises aimed at improving your range of motion, alleviating pain, and re-strengthening key tendons.

Steroid injection – severe pain that doesn’t subside with other treatments may be aided by an injection of a steroid which more effectively tackles inflammation.

Where surgery is required, advancements in medical technology have paved the way for more streamlined and minimally obstructive procedures that are done with only small incisions in the skin through which a camera and surgical instruments are inserted to conduct the repair.

Final Considerations

When it comes to preventing debilitating shoulder tendinitis, early action is key. If you are involved in a sport or workout routine that requires lots of overhead movement, make sure to limit repeated use of the shoulder as well as stretch and strengthen it regularly. You can also limit day to day strain on shoulder joints by switching the sides you sleep on each night, avoiding lifting and carrying heavy bags on the same shoulder each time, and practicing flexibility exercises like you might do with yoga or tai chi.

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