Key Points about Shoulder Tendonitis

  • Activities that require repeated over the head activity, such as swimming or painting, can cause the tendons in the shoulders to thicken and become inflamed, leading to shoulder tendonitis.
  • Because symptoms may present differently for different people, shoulder tendonitis can often be mistaken for other shoulder conditions.
  • For an accurate diagnosis, consult with your doctor if you are experiencing pain in your shoulder.
Common related conditions
Joint Instability Shoulder Strains and Sprains Shoulder Impingement Syndrome (Impingement Syndrome)


Shoulder tendonitis, also known as rotator cuff tendonitis, occurs when the rotator cuff or bicep tendon becomes inflamed. The muscles and tendons that connect your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade form the rotator cuff in your shoulder.

If your rotator cuff tendon becomes trapped under the top bone of the shoulder, it can become inflamed and/or thicken, causing pain.

Shoulder tendonitis is most commonly caused by the pinching of tendons by nearby structures in the shoulder and often seen in sports like baseball, swimming, weightlifting, volleyball. 

Shoulder tendonitis causes

The most common cause for shoulder tendonitis is overusing the shoulder and causing the tendons and muscles to become inflamed and damaged over time. Athletes, such as swimmers, tennis players, golfers, and baseball players, use repetitive movements in their sports and are prone to developing shoulder tendonitis.

Shoulder tendonitis can also be caused by a direct blow or a sudden, severe injury to the shoulder. A person can develop shoulder tendonitis by falling on an outstretched arm.

Shoulder tendonitis symptoms

Symptoms of shoulder tendonitis vary from person-to-person. In many cases, symptoms mimic symptoms from other shoulder conditions. Your doctor can accurately diagnose and treat your condition.

Common symptoms of shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Pain and possible swelling in the shoulder
  • Pain when exerting force on the shoulder, such as lifting, pulling, pushing
  • “Clicking” when lifting above your head
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of mobility and strength

Shoulder tendonitis risk factors

People who participate in sports or activities that require overhead movements are more likely to develop shoulder tendonitis. Groups of people at highest risk include:

  • Golfers
  • Baseball players
  • Swimmers
  • Painters
  • People who have occupations that require heavy lifting

Other risk factors of shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Weakness in muscles around the shoulder joint
  • Imbalance of muscles around the shoulder joint
  • Poor posture
  • Tight muscles and tissues in the shoulder
  • A blow of falling on the shoulder

Shoulder tendonitis prevention

The most effective way to reduce the stress and strain on your shoulders is to modify your activity level until your symptoms subside.

Other ways to reduce the risk of shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Warm-up and stretch the shoulder before any activities
  • Making sure your upper back and shoulders are strong
  • Stretch the shoulders to keep them flexible
  • Using the proper form in sporting events

Shoulder tendonitis diagnosis

Your doctor can often diagnose shoulder tendonitis by performing a physical examination and by reviewing your full medical history. During your medical history, your doctor will ask questions to determine when your symptoms began and potential activities that might have caused your condition.

In some cases, your doctor will order an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasonography to rule out other possible shoulder conditions.

Shoulder tendonitis complications

If diagnosis and treatment for shoulder tendonitis are delayed, complications can occur. Complications that can develop from shoulder tendonitis include:

  • Pain that impacts your ability to perform daily activities such as moving your arm over your head
  • Trouble sleeping due to the pain
  • Loss of strength and mobility in the affected shoulder or arm

Shoulder tendonitis treatment

Your doctor will develop a customized treatment plan for your case. The goal of shoulder tendonitis treatment is to ease the symptoms associated with shoulder tendonitis.

Your shoulder tendonitis treatments may include:

  • Rest
  • An ice pack or cold compress
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Corticosteroid shot
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery (for severe cases)

When should I seek care?

If you are experiencing shoulder pain or other symptoms related to bicep tendonitis, contact your doctor to make an appointment.

Next Steps

Your doctor will develop a custom treatment plan for your case. If you have a mild case of shoulder tendonitis, you can ice, rest, and modify your activity level to relieve your symptoms. Your doctor also may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to ease any swelling and more intense pain.

If you are active or participate in sports that require overhead activity and put a strain on your shoulders, take precautions such as:

  • Warming up
  • Stretching
  • Learn proper activity techniques

Contact your doctor if your symptoms change or worsen.

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