Shoulder pain (rotator cuff tendinopathy)
The rotator cuff refers to a group of four small muscles which run from the shoulder blade to the top of the arm bone. They stabilise and move the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles attach to the arm bones by tendons. Rotator cuff tendinopathy refers to inflammation and swelling within one or more of these tendons.
Rotator cuff tendinopathy results from overuse or injury to a rotator cuff tendon. The most commonly involved tendon is that of the supraspinatus muscle which functions to help raise the arm into the air. Its tendon passes through a small space between the top of the arm bone and the point of the shoulder. In this space the tendon is susceptible to ‘wear and tear’. Repetitive use of this tendon can rub the tendon against the edges of the bony space resulting in microscopic tears within the substance of the tendon.
The most common symptom is pain felt in the top of the upper arm and typically develops gradually. This is usually felt when you try and lift your arm into the air. Initially, the tendon may only be painful following exercise. For example, it may first be felt rising the day following participation. Associated with the pain may be stiffness or tightness in the shoulder. Typically, these initial signs are ignored, as they disappear quickly with use of the arm or applying heat. However, as you continue to participate, the tendinopathy progresses and the pain within the tendon becomes more intense and more frequent. The tendinopathy can worsen until you feel the pain in the arm every time you lift your arm.