Shoulder Tendinitis, Bursitis, and Impingement Syndrome

This is a very common condition.

Two types of tendinitis can affect the shoulder.

Biceps tendinitis causes pain in the front or side of the shoulder and may travel down to the elbow and forearm. Pain may also occur when the arm is raised overhead. The biceps muscle, in the front of the upper arm, helps stabilize the upper arm bone (humerus) in the shoulder socket. It also helps accelerate and decelerate the arm during overhead movement in activities like tennis or pitching.

Rotator cuff tendinitis causes shoulder pain at the tip of the shoulder and the upper, outer arm. The pain can be aggravated by reaching, pushing, pulling, lifting, raising the arm above shoulder level, or lying on the affected side.

The rotator cuff is primarily a group of four muscles that attach the arm to the shoulder girdle/shoulder blade. The rotator cuff attaches the arm to the shoulder joint and allows the arm to rotate and elevate.

If the rotator cuff and bursa are irritated, inflamed, and swollen, they may become compressed between the head of the humerus and the acromion, the outer edge of the shoulder blade.

Repeated motion involving the arms, or the aging process involving shoulder motion over many years, may also irritate and wear down the tendons, muscles, and surrounding structures. Squeezing of the rotator cuff is called shoulder impingement syndrome.

Inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis may cause rotator cuff tendinitis and bursitis. Sports involving overuse of the shoulder and occupations requiring frequent overhead reaching are other potential causes of irritation to the rotator cuff or bursa, and may lead to inflammation and impingement.

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Tim Allardyce is a Professional Physical Therapist
Registered Osteopath with a clinic in
Addington Palace, UK. He has been interviewed by the BBC and created Shoulder and Back Pain advice videos for the National Health Service.

Causes of rotator cuff impingement tendinitis and tears include:

  • Sudden trauma e.g. fall on the shoulder or arm
  • Overuse of arm with improper form
  • Poor posture: e.g. rounded shoulders or forward leaning head, muscle weakness
  • Improper exercise technique
  • Improper exercise choice


More on common causes of shoulder pain

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Tim Allardyce is a Professional Physical Therapist
Registered Osteopath with a clinic in
Addington Palace, UK.
been interviewed by the BBC and have made Shoulder and Back Pain advice videos for the National Health Service.