Harvard Women's Health Watch

What to do about rotator cuff tendinitis

The best way to treat the most common cause of shoulder pain is with simple home therapies.

Swinging a tennis racket, digging in the garden, placing a book on a high shelf, and reaching back to insert your arm into a sleeve — these are some of the movements made possible by the shoulder's enormous range of motion. We use this mobility in so many activities that when the shoulder hurts, it can be disabling. For younger people, sports injuries are the main source of trouble, but the rest of us have more to fear from the normal wear and tear that, over time, weakens shoulder tissues and leaves them vulnerable to injury. The risk is greatest for people with occupations or hobbies that require repetitive or overhead movements, such as cashiering, using a computer, painting, gardening, tennis, or swimming.

The most common cause of shoulder pain is rotator cuff tendinitis — inflammation of key tendons in the shoulder. The earliest symptom is a dull ache around the outside tip of the shoulder that gets worse when you push, pull, reach overhead, or lift your arm up to the side. Lying on the affected shoulder also hurts, and the pain may wake you at night, especially if you roll onto that shoulder. Even getting dressed can be a trial. Eventually, the pain may become more severe and extend over the entire shoulder.

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