The supraspinatus muscle is one of the four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder; it passes over the top of the joint to attach to the top of the humerus. The rotator cuff muscles work together to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder joint.
Tendonitis generally affects more than one of these muscles and is known as rotator cuff tendonitis. However, it is often diagnosed as supraspinatus tendonitis, implying that only one tendon is affected.
The Cause and Risk Factors of Supraspinatus Tendonitis
The main cause of supraspinatus tendonitis is repetitive over-use of the muscle, which causes small tears to occur in the tendon fibers. The supraspinatus tendon is at risk of being pinched in the joint during repetitive movement.
The risk factors include sports which involve repetitive over-arm actions as in swimming, pitching and weight lifting. Age is another risk factor as the tendons become more brittle and less elastic as we age.
Other causes include genetic abnormality, shoulder instability, unaccustomed intense exercise and lack of adequate core strength. Workplace and household activities can also cause tendonitis, especially when repeated actions with a raised arm raised are required.
The Symptoms of Supraspinatus Tendonitis
The major symptoms of supraspinatus tendonitis are pain and inflammation. The tiny tears that occur in the tendon cause inflammation which in turn, causes pain. The pain will start as mild, felt mainly after activity that uses the arm raised to the side, above shoulder-height. Moderate pressure on the tip of the shoulder will be painful. If not treated, the pain increases in duration and strength; it will be felt at other times, especially at night.
Other symptoms include stiffness and weakness of the shoulder joint, pain when the arm is raised, restricted movement and difficulty getting comfortable in bed.
Time and rest are the most effective treatment of supraspinatus tendonitis. Tendons can heal themselves, given rest and sufficient time. Continuing to exercise with tendonitis can cause it to progress to a serious condition that may need surgery to repair.
Exercise must be stopped, especially the actions that caused the tendonitis, and the shoulder rested. Application of ice for the first few days is essential to reduce swelling and inflammation. Hold an ice pack to the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours for the first 48 hours.
Inflammation is treated with anti-inflammatory medications and topical gels. By treating the inflammation, you also relieve the pain. Supporting and immobilizing the arm will help to prevent inadvertent movements and assist in the healing.
As the pain starts to ease, small movements of the arm can be started, followed by light strengthening exercise. It is important to avoid any painful movements and to progress gradually and slowly.
At first, restrict movements to forward and sideways raises and circles. A physiotherapist can help you with rehabilitation exercises that will enable you to get back to full activity as soon as possible.
The Prevention of Supraspinatus Tendonitis
Once you have had tendonitis, you are risk of a recurrence. This is why you need to allow sufficient time for the tendons to heal fully before returning to sport or exercise. Focus on increasing the strength and flexibility of the shoulder muscles; this will help in the prevention of supraspinatus tendonitis.
Always warm up and cool down with any exercise session, paying particular attention to the muscles and tendons of the shoulder. Only ever increase the duration and intensity of any activity on a gradual basis and avoid over-extending yourself.