What is shoulder tendinitis/bursitis?

Shoulder bursitis and tendinitis are common causes of shoulder pain and stiffness. They indicate swelling (inflammation) of a particular area within the shoulder joint.

The shoulder joint is kept stable by a group of muscles called the rotator cuff as well as the biceps tendon. These muscles and tendons keep the upper arm bone (humerus) within the shoulder socket (glenoid). When the rotator cuff tendons or the biceps tendon become inflamed and irritated it is called rotator cuff tendinitis and bicipital tendinitis.

An area called the subacromial bursa lies in the space between the rotator cuff tendons and the part of the shoulder blade bone that hangs over these tendons (the acromion). The bursa is what protects these tendons. Subacromial bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed.

Both conditions (shoulder bursitis and tendinitis) can cause pain and stiffness around the shoulder and may exist together.

What causes shoulder tendinitis?

Shoulder tendinitis occurs as a result of sports injuries, by repetitive use or overuse of the tendons, or from a sudden, more serious injury. For instance, professional baseball players, swimmers, tennis players, and golfers are susceptible to tendinitis in their shoulders, arms, and elbows. Improper technique in any sport is one of the primary causes of overload on tissues including tendons, which can contribute to tendinitis.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to develop this condition, however. People with jobs that require overhead work (such as assembly work or an overhead pressing machine) or heavy lifting are at risk of tendinitis, but any person can develop tendonitis from repetitive use of these tendons. A direct blow to the shoulder area or falling on an outstretched arm can also cause shoulder tendinitis.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/03/2019.


  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Shoulder Problems. Accessed 3/4/2019.
  • Arthritis Foundation. Tendinitis. Accessed 3/4/2019.

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