Shoulder pain? Could it be tendonitis?

Blog Health News 13th March 2023 Enquiries & appointments
Close up of patient holding shoulder to relieve shoulder pain

The shoulder is one of the most complex joints of the body as it’s a combination of five joints allowing a 360 degree arc of movement. The shoulder can assume over 1,000 positions making it vulnerable to overuse and injury.

Shoulder pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages which can occur suddenly or develop gradually over time. Quite often, the source of this pain can be tendonitis (tendinopathy). In this article, I will explain the causes, symptoms, self-management and prevention of shoulder tendonitis, and when to seek expert advice.

What is shoulder tendonitis?

Shoulder tendonitis, also known as tendinopathy, is a condition that occurs when the tendons in the shoulder become inflamed or irritated. The tendons are thick, fibrous cords that attach muscles to bones. The shoulder has four tendons that attach the muscles of the rotator cuff to the bone. When these tendons become inflamed or irritated, it can cause pain and discomfort in the shoulder.

Common causes of shoulder tendonitis

Shoulder tendonitis can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Overuse: Repetitive motions, such as throwing a ball or lifting weights, can cause the tendons in the shoulder to become overused and inflamed.
  2. Age: As we age, our tendons become less elastic and more prone to injury.
  3. Poor posture: Poor posture can put extra stress on the tendons in the shoulder, leading to inflammation and pain.
  4. Injuries: Trauma to the shoulder, such as a fall or a direct blow, can cause the tendons to become inflamed.
  5. Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, can increase the risk of developing shoulder tendonitis.

Shoulder tendonitis symptoms

The most common symptom of shoulder tendonitis is pain in the shoulder. The pain may be mild or severe and may worsen with certain activities, such as lifting, overhead work or reaching. Other symptoms may include stiffness in the shoulder, weakness in the shoulder, pain at night or on lying on the shoulder, and clicking or popping sounds when moving the shoulder.

Self-management and prevention

There are several self-management strategies that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with shoulder tendonitis:

Rest: Avoid activities that exacerbate the pain and rest the shoulder as much as possible.

Ice: Apply ice to the shoulder for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, to reduce pain and swelling.

Heat: Apply heat to the shoulder before stretching or exercising to help loosen the muscles and tendons.

Physical therapy: A physical therapist or personal trainer can provide exercises and stretches that can help alleviate pain and improve shoulder mobility.

Posture correction: Correcting posture can help reduce stress on the shoulder tendons.

Change your sleeping position: Try using a pillow to support your arm when lying on your back, or put a pillow between your arm and body if lying on your side.

General strengthening: By strengthening the muscles in the shoulder, weight training can help support the tendons and joints, reducing the risk of injury and pain. It’s also important to not forget the muscles of the back, such as the lower trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid and posterior cuff as if a muscular imbalance is present then this may lead to overloading the shoulder.

Proper form during exercise: Do adequate warm up before putting any stress on the shoulder muscles. Ensure that you are using proper form during exercise to avoid placing unnecessary stress on the shoulder tendons.

How long is recovery?

Recovery from shoulder tendonitis can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual’s response to treatment. With proper self-management strategies, most people can expect to recover within 4-6 weeks. However, in some cases, recovery may take longer.

When to seek expert advice

If the pain in the shoulder persists or worsens despite self-management strategies, it is important to seek expert advice from a healthcare professional. Additionally, if the shoulder is swollen, red, or warm to the touch, or if there is a fever, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. A healthcare professional can provide a diagnosis and recommend treatment options, such as medications or corticosteroid injections. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged tendons.

For more information please visit our shoulder pain page.

Article created by Professor Bijayendra Singh, Consultant Upper Limb Surgeon

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