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Provider examining patient's shoulder

Shoulder tendinitis is deterioration within or thickening of the tendons in the rotator cuff. We rely on our rotator cuff tendons to remain strong in order to lift and rotate our arm. When tendinitis sets in, everyday activities become painful and difficult.

Penn orthopaedic specialists use the latest advanced nonsurgical and surgical techniques to treat shoulder tendinitis. If shoulder tendinitis affects your quality of life, seek treatment from an orthopaedic specialist who has expertise in relieving pain and restoring function to individuals with shoulder tendinitis.

Causes of Shoulder Tendinitis

Shoulder tendinitis is often caused by overuse or injury from repetitive motion or a blow to the shoulder. It is common in athletes and those who have suffered a shoulder injury, but anyone can develop shoulder tendinitis from repetitive use of the tendons.

Four tendons make up the rotator cuff:

  • Infraspinatus tendon: Located behind the supraspinatus tendon
  • Subscapularis tendon: Located at the front of the shoulder
  • Supraspinatus tendon: Located on the top of the shoulder, the most commonly injured tendon in the rotator cuff
  • Teres minor tendon: Located at the back of the shoulder

If you experience any of the following symptoms, see a Penn orthopaedic specialist to evaluate you for shoulder tendinitis:

  • Clicking or popping of the shoulder
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Shoulder pain
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Swelling or tenderness in your shoulder

Diagnosing Shoulder Tendinitis

To diagnose shoulder tendinitis, one of our orthopaedic specialists will evaluate your symptoms, examine your shoulder and arm, inquire about any recent injuries or underlying conditions, and take a full medical history.

You will likely require further imaging tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis, such as:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound
  • CT scan

As part of the evaluation process, our expert musculoskeletal radiologists carefully review imaging, leading to a better diagnosis and best possible treatment options. Treatment options may include a combination of conservative therapies. If your tendinitis is severe, you may require surgery.

Shoulder Tendinitis Treatment

Fortunately, most tendinitis that doesn’t involve a tear in the rotator cuff can be managed non-operatively.

For this reason, we usually emphasize a conservative approach to treating shoulder tendinitis. Many people find that their pain and function greatly improves through these simple, nonsurgical therapies:

  • Activity modification
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Corticosteroid injection into the shoulder joint
  • Icing or applying heat to the shoulder joint
  • Range of motion exercises/physical therapy

If these methods do not offer enough relief or if your shoulder tendinitis is very severe and your tendons have torn, we’ll determine if surgery may be beneficial.

Surgery for Shoulder Tendinitis

If your rotator cuff tendinitis has caused so much damage that the tendons have either partially or completely torn, surgery may be required to repair the tears and help strengthen the muscles and tendons. Penn orthopaedic surgeons are highly skilled in performing several complex surgical techniques at once to repair damaged and torn tendons, and to remove any other scar tissue or damaged bursae that may be causing inflammation.

Shoulder Tendinitis Surgery Recovery

If you have tendinitis shoulder surgery, you will need plenty of rest afterward, and your shoulder and arm will be immobilized in a sling or wrap. Your doctor will start you on a pain management program in conjunction with physical rehabilitation to regain as much strength, range of motion and function as possible.

Recovering from shoulder tendinitis surgery depends on several factors, including the type of surgery you had, the severity of your condition and your long-term recovery goals. Our orthopaedic team — physical therapists, pain management specialists and orthopaedic specialists — consider all of these factors when creating customized rehabilitation plans that allow for the best possible outcome. You will work closely with your team for as long as your recovery takes and until your shoulder’s maximum function is restored.

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