Skip to Main Content

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries and inflammation are some of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters and people who play baseball or tennis. The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age because our tendons tend to lose their elasticity and become weaker as we get older. Also, as we age our posture changes which places stresses on these tendons and the space they run through.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

The symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis tend to get worse over time. Initial symptoms may be relieved with rest, but the symptoms can later become constant. Symptoms that go past the elbow usually indicate another problem. Symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis include:

  • Pain and swelling in the front of the shoulder and side of the arm
  • Pain triggered by raising or lowering the arm
  • Stiffness
  • Pain that causes you to wake from sleep
  • Pain when reaching behind the back
  • A loss of mobility and strength in the affected arm.


  1. Cold and heat therapy – Ice on the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes at a time can often reduce inflammation and pain. When the inflammation and discomfort have settled down, a heating pad or hot packs can often soothe and relax sore muscles. As with cold therapy, limit heat applications to 20 minutes at a time.
  2. Rest – Simply avoiding any movement or activity that causes discomfort can calm inflamed tissues and strained muscles.
  3. Medications – Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) to relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.
  4. Physical therapy – An exercise program designed by a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer may be recommended for some rotator cuff injuries. The exercises can improve flexibility and help heal an injured rotator cuff. Once pain and inflammation are reduced, other physical therapy treatments such as manual treatment or modalities like ultrasound may be effective to help you regain motion.
  5. Shoulder surgery – Shoulder surgery may be recommended for some shoulder problems including a torn rotator cuff. Thanks to recent advances in techniques and technology, many shoulder surgeries can be done arthroscopically. Arthroscopy allows the surgeon to see and work inside the joint through a few small incisions, and is most often an outpatient procedure.

    Shoulder Self-Care

    There are several things you can do to help reduce pain from rotator cuff tendinitis. These techniques can also help prevent rotator cuff tendinitis or another flare-up of pain. Shoulder self-care includes:

  • Using good posture while sitting
  • Avoiding lifting your arms repetitively over your head
  • Taking breaks from repetitive activities
  • Avoiding sleeping on the same side every night
  • Avoiding carrying a bag on only one shoulder
  • Carrying things close to your body

If you experience shoulder pain that doesn’t seem to get better, please talk with your doctor.

Sign Up for Health Tips

Get our advice and upcoming events about weight, pain, heart and more.

Find a Doctor

Need a doctor for your care?