What is Supraspinatus Tendonitis?

Supraspinatus tendonitis, also known as painful arc syndrome, is a form of tendonitis that affects the shoulder. It’s called painful arc syndrome because it can cause severe pain when lifting your arms sideways or overhead. Supraspinatus tendonitis is the most common type of inflammatory condition affecting the shoulder joint in people aged 25-60.  But what can cause this condition and what are the supraspinatus tendonitis symptoms?  Are there natural options available for supraspinatus tendonitis treatment? In this blog, we will find out!

Causes of Supraspinatus Tendonitis

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Painful arc syndrome is a type of overuse injury that can develop through physical activity (like playing sports), genetics, or poor posture. Excessive wear and tear of the supraspinatus tendon can cause this form of tendonitis. While common in athletes, you can also develop this injury if you do a lot of overhead work. 

Risk factors for painful arc syndrome include:

  • Genetics. Some joint bone shapes are more susceptible to this condition because they prevent normal movements, which can result in pain and inflammation.
  • Previous injuries. Scar tissue can prevent normal tendon movement and eventually lead to painful arc syndrome.
  • Chronic poor posture.
  • Sports that require overhead movements, like volleyball or tennis. Weightlifting can also cause this injury.
  • Falls. In older adults, a fall can cause shoulder injuries that lead to painful arc syndrome.
  • Aging. Gradual and natural wear and tear of the supraspinatus tendon can cause this injury. 

About 30% of cases are caused by trauma through an accident or fall. Although rare, this condition can affect both shoulders.

Playing certain sports can put you at risk of developing this injury, such as:

  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Baseball 

Some occupations can also increase the risk of this injury, such as:

  • Painting
  • Construction
  • Movers

Supraspinatus Tendonitis Symptoms

The most common of supraspinatus tendonitis symptoms is pain, which can range from mild to severe. Other signs of painful arc syndrome include:

  • Trouble reaching up
  • Weakness in the shoulder(s)
  • Pain that gets progressively worse when extending the arms above the head

If the rotator cuff is completely torn, you may have trouble lifting your arms. The pain may be worse at night and may radiate from the front of your shoulder through the side of your arms. 

If left untreated, supraspinatus tendonitis will get progressively worse. Eventually, the injury can limit shoulder movement and may cause pain in other areas, like the neck.

How is Painful Arc Syndrome Diagnosed?

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Supraspinatus tendonitis can be complicated to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other conditions, like a pinched nerve.

Your doctor will ask you some questions about your symptoms and any previous injuries you may have had. You may also be asked to perform some shoulder movements to check your form and look for pain.

Depending on your history and symptoms, your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to check for other conditions like arthritis or bone spurs. An MRI scan may be ordered if your doctor can’t give a diagnosis. The scan will give your doctor a better look inside of your shoulder. 

Supraspinatus Tendonitis Treatment

Conventional and natural treatments are available for supraspinatus tendonitis. Surgery is rarely required. In fact, less than one in four people with painful arc syndrome will need surgery, even if the condition progresses to a full-blown tear.


One of the best things you can do for your shoulder is give it a rest. It’s important to avoid physical exercise or any movements that will make the pain worse. Resting your shoulder will allow it to heal and prevent further damage.

While rest is important, you want to avoid completely immobilizing your arm. Complete immobilization can make your shoulder muscles weak and stiff. 

Hot and Cold Therapy

Alternating between hot and cold therapy can help alleviate pain and swelling. Placing an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) on your shoulder for 10-15 minutes at a time a few times a day can help reduce the swelling. 

After the first 48 hours, heat therapy may be the better option for painful arc syndrome. The heat will increase circulation to the affected area to encourage healing and reduce pain.

Physical Therapy

One common and effective treatment for supraspinatus tendonitis is physical therapy. This injury responds well to therapy. A physical therapist may use gentle exercises and stretching to help you regain range of motion and strength.

Natural Treatment for Supraspinatus Tendonitis

Rest and physical therapy can be effective for supraspinatus tendonitis, but there are also natural therapies that may help with the pain and inflammation. 


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Cannabidiol, or CBD, has the potential to help with tendonitis. One study from the European Journal of Pain found that when CBD is applied to the skin, it can help reduce inflammation and pain caused by arthritis. Another study from 2016 found similar results. This suggests that it may also be effective at alleviating pain caused by tendonitis.

Creams containing CBD can provide targeted pain relief while helping reduce inflammation.  


Dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, is a natural by-product of the paper industry, but it also has therapeutic properties. If you have supraspinatus tendonitis, DMSO may help alleviate pain and inflammation.

One study involved 102 patients with either tennis elbow or rotator cuff tendonitis. They were treated with topical DMSO in a double-blind study. Participants saw an improvement in pain, swelling, tenderness, and range of motion. 

DMSO works well to reduce inflammation due to the fact that it is extremely effective at absorbing into the skin. DMSO can get to the source and start reducing inflammation a lot quicker than other medications. This benefit of DMSO also allows other medications and ingredients to be absorbed faster. This means you can get more benefits from the other ingredients in your cream, gel, or medication.

Essential Oils

Many essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties and can help alleviate pain, including:

  • Lavender: Research shows that lavender essential oil has both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
  • Frankincense: The anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense may help with tendonitis symptoms. It’s believed that this oil can help inhibit the release of leukotrienes or compounds that cause inflammation.
  • Clary Sage: A 2017 study in rats published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that clary sage essential oil had potent anti-inflammatory effects.

What is the Outlook for Supraspinatus Tendonitis?

Supraspinatus tendonitis is a painful injury that can make it difficult to perform everyday activities. Fortunately, most people will make a complete recovery within a few months. If surgery is required, recovery may take a few additional months.

It’s important to rest your injured shoulder during the healing process to prevent complications and further injury. Using a combination of conventional and natural treatments can help you deal with the pain while you recover. 

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