Shoulder tendonitis, also known as rotator cuff tendonitis, is an inflammation of the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder. It is traditionally treated with rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and corticosteroid injections. Stretching exercises are an integral part of the treatment plan for rotator cuff tendonitis. Stretching, when used in conjunction with strength training, can often ameliorate your shoulder pain after only six to eight treatment sessions, according to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles, the supraspinatinus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles are attached to your humerus, clavicle and scapula by tendons, which are bands of fibrous connective tissue. Tendonitis occurs when these tendons become inflamed.
Rotator cuff tendonitis is most commonly caused by overuse from repetitive overhead movements, according to Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Medicine. This is typically found in sports such as tennis, swimming and baseball. Other risk factors include weak rotator cuff muscles, overload injuries, improper technique when exercising or playing sports, history of shoulder injury in the past and a loose shoulder joint.
Stretching exercises will help to maintain your range of motion and prevent your shoulder from becoming stiff, which can lead to a condition known as frozen shoulder. Once frozen shoulder develops, it is very difficult to move the shoulder and physical therapy must be done to correct the problem.
The Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Medicine Service recommends starting with a gentle warm-up for several minutes such as the pendulum swing, and then progressing to stretching exercises such as the supine flexion, cross chest, external rotation and internal rotation stretch.
To do the pendulum swing, stand next to a table and bend forward at the hips. Place your good hand on the table and allow your injured arm to hang down. Then gently move your arm in small circles. Do this for a few minutes every day as a warm-up for your other exercises.
The supine shoulder flexion stretch is done lying down on your back. To do this exercise you will need a cane or stick. Hold the cane with your hands about shoulder width apart. Starting from waist level, slowly raise the cane up over your head as far as you can go and hold the stretch. Use your good arm to assist the injured arm as you lift. Then slowly return back to the starting position.
To do the cross chest stretch, bring your injured arm across your body. Place your other hand on your elbow and hold the stretch.
Each stretch should be held for 15 to 20 seconds. Try to complete five to 10 repetitions of each stretch and do this two to three times every day. Remember to warm up properly before stretching. This will relax your tight muscles so that you will get a better stretch. You may also stretch during a hot shower as an alternative.
Stretching exercises should be performed in conjunction with strengthening exercises for maximal benefit. Strengthening exercises will help to strengthen the muscles comprising the rotator cuff and prevent subsequent injuries. These exercises may be performed at home or under a physical therapist. The Cleveland Clinic notes that most patients will take two to four weeks to heal, and up to several months if you have a history of rotator cuff tendonitis. In addition to exercising, you should also avoid the causative activity or activities that cause pain, apply ice and use anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation.
See your doctor if you believe that you have rotator cuff tendonitis. He or she will be able to accurately diagnose the problem, as well as give corticosteroid injections and prescribe physical therapy. Call your doctor if your pain persists, as this may be a sign that a more significant problem is causing your shoulder pain, such as a rotator cuff tear.