Causes and Treatment of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body. Just think of all the things you do with it, all the things you reach for and pick up, and all the wide ranging up, down, forward, and back directions you can move your arm.

The trade-off for this mobility, though, is a lack of stability and a high degree of complexity in the bones, muscles, and tendons that make things work. And along with this complexity, there are a lot of ways things can go wrong.

shoulder structure

There are three bones and four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder. There’s also a bursa — a sort of cushioning sac that separates the acromion bone from the tendons that glide beneath it.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome occurs when there is abnormal compression or pinching within the shoulder joint, often related to inflammation of the bursa or the tendons that run beneath the acromion. The result is pain and sometimes limited mobility.

When left untreated, shoulder impingement can lead to more extreme problems. For example, if tendons are allowed to remain swollen while aggravating activities are continued, the result could be a torn rotator cuff — and a more extended, expensive bout of treatment and physical therapy.

There are any number of things that lead to shoulder impingement. Often it’s a result of overuse, especially from repeated overhead motions such as playing tennis, painting, swimming, or lifting.

If your shoulder is feeling aggravated in any way, it’s a good idea to get it looked at by your doctor. Although Shoulder Impingement Syndrome is very common, there are plenty of other possible problems of the shoulder, neck, and arm, and it’s a good idea to know exactly which one you’re dealing with.

Treatment of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Anti-inflammatory medications, sometimes as simple as aspirin or Ibuprofin, remain the most common recommendation for reducing the swelling. You will also be advised to avoid the activities that caused the problem in the first place—so no more overhead exercises, for example, until the shoulder impingement is resolved.

Your best course of action is also to work with a physical therapist, who can devise a plan of exercises to restore muscle balance, improve shoulder stability and correct compensatory movements.  The plan will most likely involve stretching, strengthening, and range of motion exercises to help speed your recovery and reduce your chances of reinjury. 

For most people, adherence to their doctor’s and physical therapist’s instructions will result in a full recovery from Shoulder Impingement Syndrome. Some doctors may recommend cortisone injections or even surgery, but these should be last resorts relied on only if all other options have been tried and failed.