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Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
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What Is Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in each shoulder. They hold the shoulder bones together and let the shoulders move.

Rotator cuff tendonitis is inflammation (pain and swelling) of the tendons in the rotator cuff. Tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

Kids with rotator cuff tendonitis (ten-deh-NYE-tis) have pain along the front and side of the shoulder. They also may have:

  • pain when raising the arm above the head
  • shoulder stiffness or weakness

What Causes Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

Rotator cuff tendonitis is overuse injury (also called a repetitive stress injury). An overuse injury is caused by doing the same motions over and over again. Someone gets rotator cuff tendonitis by repeatedly doing motions that raise their arm above their head.

Who Gets Rotator Cuff Tendonitis?

Rotator cuff tendonitis usually happens in kids and teens who play sports, especially baseball, tennis, volleyball, or swimming. In these sports, athletes reach above the head a lot.

How Is Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Diagnosed?

To diagnose rotator cuff tendonitis, health care providers:

  • ask questions about sports and activities
  • do an exam
  • sometimes, order an MRI 

How Is Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Treated?

Kids and teens with rotator cuff tendonitis need to take time off from sports. For pain, they can:

  • Put ice or a cold pack on the shoulder every 1–2 hours for 15 minutes at a time. Put a thin towel between the ice and the skin to protect it from the cold.
  • Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or store brand) or naprosyn (Aleve, Naproxen, or store brand) if your health care provider says it’s OK. Follow the label directions for how much medicine to give and how often.

When the pain is controlled and kids have rested, health care providers usually recommend physical therapy (PT) or another exercise program.

Can Someone With Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Play Sports?

It’s important for kids with rotator cuff tendonitis to take a break from sports and then slowly return. Returning too soon can lead to long-term pain and shoulder problems. Athletes who are healing from rotator cuff tendonitis should only go back to sports if they:

  • do not have pain when raising the arms above the head
  • do not have any trouble doing everyday activities like reaching up to a shelf
  • have followed their health care provider’s recommendations for PT or other exercise program
  • have been cleared for sports by their health care provider

How Can Parents Help?

To help your child with rotator cuff tendonitis heal well:

  • Make sure they follow the health care provider’s recommendations for rest, PT, and exercises.
  • Do not let your child go back to sports until your health care provider says it’s OK. Going back too soon can cause long-term pain and problems with the shoulder.
  • Your child should follow proper sports techniques after returning to play.
  • If your child plays baseball, be sure the pitching guidelines are followed.
  • Help your child vary the kind of sports they do. After a season of volleyball, for example, your child can try track or soccer to give their shoulders a rest.
  • Teach your child that if something hurts during training or a game, they should stop playing. If the pain continues, your child needs to get checked by a coach, trainer, or health care provider before returning to play.
Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: September 2022