Your chronic shoulder pain may be rotator cuff tendinopathy. Read on to find out its related symptoms and more.
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In this article:
- What Is Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
- The Causes of Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy Explained
- The Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy
- Who Is at Risk for Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
- How Do You Diagnose Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
- Can You Treat Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
- How Do You Prevent It?
Everything You Need to Know About Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy
What Is Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
The rotator cuff is a set of tendons and muscles on your shoulder. It keeps the ball of your arm bone inside the shoulder socket.
These muscles and tendons work together whenever you raise, rotate, or swing your arms.
Rotator cuff tendinopathy is a medical condition where these muscles and tendons swell. It is also known as the impingement syndrome or shoulder tendonitis.
The Causes of Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy Explained
There are several possible causes of this condition:
- Pre-existing muscular weakness which causes joint instability
- Growth of bone spurs in the shoulder joint
- Micro-trauma in the shoulder which causes joint instability
- Swollen bursa in the shoulder joint
- Rotator cuff tendons and muscles hitting the outer shoulder blade bone (acromion bone) and causing inflammation
- Active engagement in sports which require continuous movement of the arms and shoulder joint (e.g. swimming, baseball, basketball, and tennis)
- Poor posture which prevents the optimal functioning of the joint’s biomechanics
- Habit of sleeping only on one side which may cause problems for that shoulder
Apart from the anatomical problems, this condition is usually caused by overusing one’s shoulder.
The Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy
Rotator cuff tendinopathy symptoms include:
- Joint pain first thing in the morning
- Joint locking or cracking
- Weakness in upper arms or hands
- Shoulder swelling and tenderness
- Stiff shoulder joints
- Limited range of arm and shoulder motion
- Discomfort or pain when arms are used to lift objects above the head (e.g. lifting weights)
- Pain from the elbows down to the arms
- Pain even if the arm isn’t in use
- Sleep disturbance
Some of the symptoms may be chronic and may gradually become worse over time.
Who Is at Risk for Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
Studies show that rotator cuff tendinopathy is the most common cause of shoulder pain. In fact, 30% of the general population has had it.
This condition may be prevalent, but there are still certain risk factors associated with it:
- Occupations which involve a lot of physical labor. Certain jobs require repetitive, overhead arm motions that can put people at risk for this condition (e.g. house painters, kitchen workers, etc.).
- Long-term engagement in certain sports. Baseball, archery, football, and tennis are a few examples of sports that require repetitive arm motions.
- Age. When you get older, your body isn’t able to repair and replenish the collagen in our tendons as quickly as it used to. People over 40 years old are more at risk for this condition.
- Genetics. If you have a family history of this condition, you are more likely to have it.
- Weight. Overweight and obese men are more prone to having this condition.
- Metabolic disorders or diabetes. The increased buildup of fat, sugar, and protein in the blood may lead to inflammation and weaker tendons.
How Do You Diagnose Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
If you are having problems with your rotator cuff, it’s best to see an orthopedic doctor or a physical therapist. The diagnostic process will usually involve these steps:
- Disclosure of detailed medical and lifestyle history
- Shoulder flexibility test where you will be asked to move your arms in different directions to determine the range of motion
- Shoulder examination and palpation to check for swelling
- X-ray to check for bone alignment, structural changes, or bone spurs
- MRI to have a detailed view of the shoulder joint, muscles, and tendons
- Ultrasound to determine if there’s soft tissue damage
How Do You Treat Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?
Rotator cuff tendinopathy treatment may involve lifestyle changes, physical therapy, oral medication, or surgery. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may recommend:
- Application of an ice pack on the shoulder several times a day for short periods
- Taking oral medication such as pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Shoulder compression using slings, straps, or tape
- Corticosteroids injection to help relieve pain
- Avoiding strenuous activities
- Resting the shoulder
- Changing sleeping positions
- Placing pillows under the afflicted side of the shoulder while sleeping
- Gentle shoulder exercises or physiotherapy
- Maintaining proper posture
- Arthroscopic surgery for severe cases that don’t improve with initial treatment
How Do You Prevent It?
If you do not have a genetic predisposition for rotator cuff tendinopathy, there may be some things you can do to prevent it:
- Avoid “weekend warrior” injuries where you suddenly over-exert yourself physically without proper conditioning and warm-up.
- Include regular upper body exercises and shoulder strength-training exercises in your routine.
- Be mindful of your posture when you’re walking, working, and resting.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects over your head.
- Avoid collisions and falls.
Athletes of certain sports are at a greater risk for rotator cuff injuries. Here are some additional things they can do to prevent it:
- Exercise regularly.
- Be mindful of your form while working out.
- Use exercise equipment properly and safely.
- Start training at least three weeks before the official season begins.
- Always warm up, stretch, and cool down.
- Develop a preventive care program with an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist.
It may be difficult for some athletes, but it’s important to refrain from overstraining your rotator cuff to avoid long-lasting injuries.
Learn more about rotator cuff tendinopathy in this video from Dpt Orthopedics:
Rotator cuff tendinopathy can have a negative impact on your quality of life. If you are experiencing chronic shoulder pain, make an appointment with your health care provider.
If you do have rotator cuff tendinopathy, ignoring the pain and continuing to use your shoulder may further aggravate your condition. While it may not be completely preventable, there are effective non-invasive treatment options if it’s diagnosed early enough.
Have you been experiencing the symptoms of rotator cuff tendinopathy? What have you been doing to treat it? Let us know in the comments section.
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