What Is Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy?

The older you get, the more likely it is you’ll get rotator cuff tendinopathy, or tendinosis. This type of shoulder pain is more common if you’re over age 30. If not treated, it can lead to stiffness or weakness in your shoulder. Most of the time, it’s easily treated.

Each of your shoulders is made up by a group of muscles and tendons called a rotator cuff. This keeps your upper arm inside your shoulder socket. It also gives you the strength and motion to rotate and lift your arms.

If the tendons in your rotator cuff are swollen or damaged, you could have rotator cuff tendinitis.

This can happen because of an injury to your shoulder. You might fall on your outstretched arm. Or it could be from repeated motions in sports or on the job, especially if your work involves heavy lifting or a lot of reaching over your head.

People older than age 40 are most likely to have rotator cuff problems, in general. Genes may also play a part. If someone else in your family has shoulder issues, then you may be prone to get them, too.

What Are the Symptoms?

If you have rotator cuff tendinopathy, you will notice pain in the outer part of your upper arm, as well as the front and top of your shoulder. This could be worse when you raise your hands above your head or reach behind you. It could also wake you up at night.

You also might notice:

  • Swelling and tenderness in the front of your shoulder
  • “Clicking” in your shoulder when you raise your arms over your head
  • Loss of strength or range of motion

How Is a Diagnosis Made?

Many different things can cause shoulder pain. It could be a pinched nerve or arthritis. To find out for sure, you’ll need to see your doctor. He’ll ask about your symptoms and take a look at your shoulder. He’ll test your arm strength and ask you to move your arm in different ways so he can check your range of motion.

An imaging test like an ultrasound or MRI can help, too. These will let your doctor see any swelling or tearing of your tendons.


What’s the Treatment?

Many times, rotator cuff tendinitis can be treated at home if the injury was sudden. Treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter medicine. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can help ease your shoulder ache.
  • Rest. You’ll need to stop any physical activity that causes or adds to your shoulder pain.
  • Ice. A cold pack can help reduce swelling and pain. Use for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours.
  • Heat. Once your pain starts to go away, you can use a heating pad to lessen any stiffness in your shoulder.
  • Stretching. Your doctor can give you daily exercises to do at home to get your shoulder more flexible. Doing these in a hot shower may help.

Usually, a rotator cuff can heal in 2 to 4 weeks. But if your tendinitis is severe, it could take months. If the pain is getting in the way of your daily life or you injure yourself again, your doctor might suggest:

  • Steroids. A shot injected in your shoulder joint can help with the soreness.
  • Physical therapy. Your trainer can guide you through exercises to help you regain strength and motion in your shoulder.
  • Surgery. This is rare. Unless you’re young and had an acute, traumatic shoulder injury, surgery is a last resort for rotator cuff tears.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 14, 2019



Mayo Clinic: “Rotator Cuff Injury.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Rotator Cuff Tendinitis,” “Shoulder Tendinitis.”

OrthoInfo/American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Shoulder Impingement/Rotator Cuff Tendinitis.”

UptoDate: “Patient Education: Rotator Cuff tendinitis  and tear (Beyod the basics.)”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Shoulder Tendinitis.”

Hospital for Special Surgery: “Rotator Cuff Tears, Injuries and Treatment.”

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