What Is Shoulder Tendonitis? Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

If you’ve been suffering from shoulder pain and swelling, shoulder tendonitis may be the main culprit. It refers to the swelling and inflammation of your rotator cuff, which is largely responsible for giving your arm and shoulder a wide range of motion.

There are many potential causes of shoulder tendonitis, but two main ones include overuse and acute injury. However, before we dive into the potential causes of shoulder tendonitis, let’s go over some of the most common symptoms and warning signs.

What are the Symptoms of Shoulder Tendonitis?

There are some very common giveaways for tendonitis of the shoulder. They are:

  • The sudden inability to hold your arm or rotate your shoulder in specific directions
  • A sharp pain or tender feeling in the shoulder
  • A clicking noise when your raise your arm or shoulder
  • Stiffness

While these are the two main signs, your body may display symptoms of shoulder tendonitis in a variety of different ways. Your symptoms will also be impacted by the cause behind your specific form of shoulder tendonitis.

What Causes Shoulder Tendonitis?

This condition occurs when the rotator cuff or biceps tendon becomes inflamed. When this happens, you’re unable to fully rotate the rotator cuff and move your arm. As a result, you’ll experience pain or stiffness because the muscles and tendons do not have enough space in your shoulder socket to move.

Most commonly, I see shoulder tendonitis in athletes who rely heavily on their arms and shoulders, like football players, swimmers, and baseball players. However, there are a wide variety of athletes who may be at risk of developing shoulder tendonitis.

How is Shoulder Tendonitis Diagnosed and Treated?

The first step to getting your shoulder tendonitis treated properly is going to see a doctor—preferably a shoulder specialist with experience treating shoulder tendonitis and other rotator cuff injuries. Your doctor will then perform a number of tests to properly diagnose the tendonitis. Those tests may include:

  • X-Ray
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound

In addition, your doctor will perform a thorough medical exam to assess what part of your shoulder is injured. They will test your current range of motion with the affected shoulder and identify and specific points of pain or tenderness.

Depending on the severity of your shoulder tendonitis, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatment methods.

Physical Therapy

If the tendonitis isn’t too severe, and wasn’t caused by an acute injury, then your doctor may prescribe some physical therapy. This typically includes seeing a physical therapist who will help you stretch out your shoulder to improve its range of motion.

After alleviating the inflammation through passive exercises like stretching, they’ll work with you to perform a different set of exercises to strengthen the area back up.


If physical therapy isn’t aggressive enough at treating the inflammation in your shoulder, a steroid shot may be the next best option. This includes having a round of steroid injected into your shoulder.


If your shoulder tendonitis is the result of an acute injury, or your shoulder is suffering from a more severe tendon tear, then your doctor may suggest shoulder surgery to fix the problem.

More than likely, this surgery will be relatively non-invasive. Oftentimes, to treat shoulder tendonitis and other minor issues, a surgeon will perform arthroscopic surgery. This is a non-invasive procedure that does not involve opening your entire shoulder.

Regardless of which treatment plan your doctor recommends, you’ll need to do your part by taking a break from any sports and properly rehabilitating your shoulder. Here are some exercises and other things you can do at home to aid in your recovery:

What You Can Do at Home to Treat Shoulder Tendonitis

  • Sitting up straight and exhibiting good posture, especially when sitting
  • Taking a break from sports and other intense workouts
  • Avoid lifting things over your head repeatedly
  • Hold and carry items close to your body
  • Avoid using backpacks or carrying items over the affected shoulder

Surgery Should Be a Last Option

As a longtime Raleigh-area orthopedic surgeon, I believe surgery should always be a last resort for treating shoulder tendonitis.

If you’re suffering from extreme shoulder pain, please don’t hesitate to contact my team and set up a consultation.


The material contained on this site is intended for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE– it is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider directly with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.