Symptoms of a Pinched Tendon in the Rotator Cuff

A pinched tendon in the rotator cuff is a condition more commonly referred to as impingement syndrome. The rotator cuff is a collection of four small muscles that allow humans to rotate and lift the shoulder. If the rotator cuff becomes inflamed, a condition called tendonitis, it can get stuck or pinched beneath the shoulder bones. Patients who develop symptoms of a pinched tendon in the rotator cuff should consult a physician for further evaluation and care.

A man's shoulder with an overlaid 3D render of an injured rotator cuff.
Credit: jqbaker/iStock/Getty Images

Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is the most common symptom associated with shoulder impingement. Sensations of pain are typically mild to moderate, but can become severe if the rotator cuff is injured or torn. Shoulder pain can extend from the front of the affected shoulder down the side of the arm, according to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The affected shoulder may also appear inflamed or swollen and can be tender to the touch. Physical activities that involve raising the arm over the head, such as reaching, lifting or throwing, can exacerbate shoulder pain symptoms.

Shoulder Weakness

In the absence of prompt treatment, a pinched tendon in the shoulder can lead to symptoms of weakness, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center explains. Affected patients can find it difficult to lift or hold certain items with the injured arm.

Limited Range of Motion

A rotator cuff that remains pinched beneath the shoulder bones for a prolonged period of time can significantly alter a patient's range of motion. Affected patients can have difficulty placing the affected arm behind the back due to sensations of pain, the Cleveland Clinic explains. Patients who experience limited range of motion in the shoulder can have difficulty performing normal daily activities, such as brushing their teeth or getting dressed. In severe cases, patients may be unable to move the affected shoulder at all, a symptom called frozen shoulder, the AAOS warns. Patients who experience a decrease in their shoulder range of motion, especially if accompanied by shoulder pain, should seek prompt care from a doctor. Without appropriate treatment, a pinched tendon in the rotator cuff can lead to more severe shoulder complications, such as a torn rotator cuff.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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