What Is Supraspinatous Tendinopathy?

Shoulder pain accounts for about 16%to 26% of all musculoskeletal problems and is the most common complaint in shoulder disorders (Burbank et al., 2008, Mitchell et al., 2005, and Lewis, 2008).  This shoulder pain can be caused by a tendinopathy, which is a broad term used to describe a variety of diseases affecting tendons.  They can include tendinitises (involving inflammation), tendinosises (generally involving swelling and overuse, no inflammation), and tears of tendons. 


The rotator cuff consists of four muscles in the shoulder responsible for securing the arm into the shoulder joint these are: infraspinatus, supraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. The tendon most commonly injured within the rotator cuff is the supraspinatus muscle because it is subject to more stress than the other muscles of the rotator cuff (Boyle, 1969). Supraspinatous tendinopathy is a term used to describe problems involing the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle. Supraspinatus attaches to the superior, rear (posterior) aspect of the scapula (shoulder blade). The other end of the supraspinatus muscle attaches to the outside aspect of the humerus, the long bone in your upper arm. This muscle acts to lift the arm out to the side and it is one reason that it triggers pain when lifting the arm above the head (Burbank et al., 2008).  Another suggested reason for the supraspinatus to be damaged preferentially over the other rotator cuff muscles is a decreased blood supply to the tendon (MacNab, 1973). These ideas are discussed more in the “Why Does it Occur” tab of this site.  

Rotator cuff tendinopathy is one the most common causes for shoulder pain, however the subacromial bursa is a common cause of pain also and may contribute to the development of supraspinatus tendinopathy (Lewis, 2008).    However, it must be noted that the rotator cuff works in synergy and it has been described that the tendons of the four muscles are interweaved with each other so damage to one tendon is likely to involve one or more of the other three muscles (Lewis, 2008).

Tendinopathies and partial tears are often difficult to differentiate between, so care must be taken in the physical examination (Rees, Wilson, and Wolman, 2006).