Rotator cuff tendinopathy is one of the commonest causes of shoulder pain in people over 40 years of age. Doesn’t mean younger people can’t have this issue. Since the shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body, there can be various reasons why you may end up with rotator cuff tendinopathy. The charasteristic feature of this issue is shoulder pain which can be felt in the front of the shoulder or sometimes even in the middle of the arm. You may not feel the pain all the time but with specific movements that you do. The pain level can vary depending upon what you do but it can get certainly intense to the point that you won’t be able to do that acitivty anymore. This is very typical of Rotator cuff tendinopathy.

shoulder pain

What exactly is rotator cuff tendinopathy?

Rotator cuff  is a group of 4 different muscles that pretty much cup the shoulder joint. They attach in a common tendon around the shoulder joint. A tendon is the attachment of a particular muscle to the bone. The tendon is different in structure to a muscle. Although it’s quite strong, it’s not very elastic like a muscle. So minor injuries over a period of time or a single severe injury can make changes to the tendon. This is basically what happens in rotator cuff tendinopathy. The tendon starts changing becuase of the constant stress or injury and can become swollen/inflamed and cause pain. Shoulder pain with activity is the main issue in rotator cuff tendinopathy. Repeated stress can also eventually lead to a tear in the tendon if left untreated.

What you feel if you have rotator cuff tendinopathy

woman lifting overhead
  • The main issue you’ll feel if you have rotator cuff tendinopathy is shoulder pain in at front or middle of the arm on doing certain movements.
  • Especially overhead movements  like getting something from the top shelf or hanging the washing is a typical example.
  • You may also feel pain with movements of the arm away from the body as in reaching forward. Also reaching back for example reaching to the back seat of your car.
  • If you have rotator cuff tendinopathy you will also feel pain or find lifting difficult. Think getting the shopping out of your car.
  • Sometimes the pain is also on lying on the side. So your sleep may be affected.

Remember the pain doesn’t have to be intense or all the time. Even if you feel pain with certain movements and not all of the above, can mean you have rotator cuff tendipathy.

What are the causes of Rotator cuff tendinopathy?

repetitive lifting causes rotator cuff tendinopathy

The main cause of rotator cuff tendinopathy is stress to the shoulder joint or tendon that happens repetitively over a period of time or happens immediately . Some examples of this are as follows:

  • Pushing/pulling/lifting something that’s too heavy
  • Stopping something from falling
  • Fall on the arm or motor vehicle accident

Any of the above will hurt the rotator cuff tendons leading to rotator cuff tendinopathy. There are other conditions such as diabetes and persistent neck pain that can cause rotator cuff tendinopathy too.

When to see a physiotherapist ?

If your shoulder pain has not gone away in about 1-2 weeks, you’re going to need some help understanding what has happened to it. This is exactly when you need to see a physio because they’ll be able to diagnose rotator cuff tendinopathy and treat you immediately. Remember the longer you’re in pain, the longer it can take to heal. Usually a rotator cuff tendinopathy can take anywhere between 4 weeks to 3-6 months to heal completely. This is ofcourse dependent upon how good you are with the advice that the physio will inavriably give to help with recovery. Restriction of activities are as important as exercises. Trust your physiotherapist to give you the best advice for full recovery from rotator cuff tendinopathy. Of course you need a physiotherapist who uses manual therapy like we do to release the joint stiffness and muscle tension. And also give you strengthening exercises for long term relief.