Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Treatment: Medical and Surgical

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Rotator cuff tendonitis is a condition in which the tendons of the shoulder are inflamed. The most common cause is repeatedly raising the arm above the head, therefore, athletes playing sports such as tennis, swimming, or badminton, are most often affected. Injury or chronic inflammation may also cause this condition. There are several different rotator cuff tendonitis treatments.

Medical Treatments

Patients will be asked to stop or significantly reduce any activity in which the shoulder is used. This is followed by applying ice to the affected shoulder. To reduce pain in the shoulder and arm, anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended. The doctor will often have the patient see a physical therapist to help develop an exercise routine to help in maintaining flexibility.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are usually effective, but if the pain is too severe, the doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medication. An injection of cortisone may also be beneficial for patients with more severe pain. Patients may also benefit from doing gentle stretches in a hot shower.

For pain, cortisone injections are often quite effective. They should be done along with an exercise routine for strengthening and flexibility, icing the affected shoulder, and modification of activities. Other options for controlling pain include ultrasound, heat, and therapeutic massage.

If the patient is less than 30 years of age and this is the first time he or she is experiencing rotator cuff tendonitis, the above methods are used immediately. This usually results in rehabilitation taking an average of two to four weeks. Patients with some risk factors and those who have had this condition before, it may take several months for them to fully recover. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.

Surgical Treatments

If the patient’s symptoms do not go away, surgery may be necessary to remove a spur on the acromion. This may help in preventing a complete rupture or further fraying through increasing how much room the inflamed tendon has. Treating rotator cuff tendonitis that is recurrent with surgery may be done to:

  • Remove any fibrotic, thickened, and chronically inflamed bursal tissue
  • To remove a spur or prominence on the acromion undersurface
  • The get a better look at the tendons and clean up or repair any tendon tears

The above procedures are typically performed in combination. The surgeon may take an arthroscopic or open approach. After surgery, physical rehabilitation is necessary and the type and exercises prescribed will depend on the surgical procedure done, the findings at surgery, and the rate of healing.


American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (2007). Rotator Cuff Tears and Treatment Options. Retrieved on January 22, 2011 from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Rotator Cuff Injury. Retrieved on January 22, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic: