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Shoulder Tendinitis

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 bicipital tendon (the tendon that keeps the upper arm bone within the shoulder socket). When the rotator cuff tendon or the bicipital tendon becomes inflamed and irritated it is called rotator cuff tendinitis or bicipital tendinitis.

An area called the subacromial bursa lies in the space between the shoulder tendons. 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.

How is this caused?

Tendinitis occurs as a result of sports injuries, by repetitive minor impact on the affected area, 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), and heavy lifting are at risk of tendinitis. A direct blow to the shoulder area or falling on an outstretched arm can also cause shoulder tendinitis.

How is this treated?

Treatment goals include reduction in pain and inflammation, as well as preserving mobility and preventing disability and recurrence. Treatments may include a combination of rest, wrapping, and use of ice packs for recent or severe injuries. Aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen are used to reduce swelling. Physical therapy, which includes range of motion exercises, is part of the treatment plan.

Surgery is needed if the tendon has been partially or completely torn. Surgery repairs the damage and relieves pressure on the tendons and bursae.

When should you seek medical advice?

Most cases of tendinitis go away on their own over time. It may take weeks to months to recover, depending on the severity. See your doctor if you experience pain that interferes with your normal day-to-day activities or have soreness that doesn't improve despite self-care measures. Other reasons to see your doctor are if you have recurrence, or if you have a fever and the area affected by tendinitis appears red or inflamed (swollen, warm). These signs and symptoms may indicate that you have an infection.

In addition, see your doctor if you have other medical conditions that may increase your risk of an infection, or if you take medications that increase your risk of infection, such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants.

How can tendinitis be prevented?

Because most cases of tendinitis are caused by overuse, the best treatment is prevention. It is important to avoid or modify the activities that cause the problem. Underlying conditions such as improper posture or poor technique in sports or work must be corrected.

Apply these basic rules when performing activities:

  • Take it slow at first and gradually build up your activity level.
  • Use limited force and limited repetitions.
  • Stop if unusual pain occurs.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/27/2015...#13203

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2015 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.