Physical Therapy For Shoulder Tendonitis: Three Phases To Healing (And What To Expect)

If you have experienced shoulder pain due to repetitive motion stress or a sports injury, your physician may have diagnosed you with shoulder tendonitis. Simply put, this condition causes pain and inflammation of the tendons in the affected shoulder, as well as mobility issues. If your discomfort doesn't subside after a period of rest, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. There are several methods your physical therapist may utilize to help reduce the pain and inflammation, as well as help you regain mobility and range of motion. Upon entering the physical therapy facility, here is what you may expect:

1. An Evaluation and Subsequent Tests

Your physical therapist will need to know more about your health and activities leading up to your shoulder condition. You may be asked questions about when the pain was first experienced and about your lifestyle or occupation. For instance, a cashier who constantly extends his or her arm repeatedly may be more prone to developing shoulder tendonitis due to the repetitive motion strain. Ballplayers may also be subject to such a condition.

Your physical therapist needs to assess the level of pain you are experiencing. Your therapist may ask when your pain is at its worst, such as the end of your work shift or while lying down. He or she may ask you what seems to relieve the discomfort best, such as rest, heating pads or ice applications.

As part of this evaluation, your physical therapist may use an instrument known as a goniometer to measure your range of motion. The clear plastic instrument consists of two parts: one remains still while the other is movable. The goniometer will be positioned at the affected shoulder joint in order to take measurements.

One you've undergone your evaluation and range of motion tests, your physical therapist will devise a customized program designed to help your shoulder heal. The program may consist of regular therapy sessions a few times a week or as indicated.

2. Range of Motion and Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

Your physical therapist may recommend exercises to improve your range of motion and strengthen your affected shoulder. You'll probably begin with some gentle stretching exercises then gradually move up to something more challenging. Typically, these exercises will be demonstrated by the therapist. You may also be given a paper illustrating the exercises you can continue to perform at home.

In addition to the exercises, you may use specialized equipment with varying levels of resistance. One such piece of equipment is known as an upper body ergometer. (UBE). It looks much like an exercise cycle, although you pedal with your arms rather than your legs. It is designed to help strengthen your upper body and increase your range of motion. A shoulder pulley system with a resistance band may also be used.

After a session of intense exercise, your physical therapist may apply an ice pack to the affected area. This may help reduce further swelling and inflammation. The ice may be wrapped in a towel or cloth to protect your skin.

3. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

The third phase of your physical therapy may include Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. This may be performed by placing electrodes on your shoulder, which deliver pain relieving pulses and increase blood flow to the affected area. The electrodes are connected to a machine, of which you may control to increase or decrease intensity. This form of physical therapy is sometimes referred to as electrotherapy.

For more information, check out places like the Clinic of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.