What Are the Signs of Shoulder Impingement?

Your shoulder is made of a complex group of joints, muscles, tendons, and bones. It allows your shoulder to move in a variety of ways. Because of these many parts and many ways it can move, your shoulder is vulnerable to a variety of injuries.

In fact, shoulder pain is one of the most frequent complaints we hear at Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates in Castro Valley, California. And the most common cause of shoulder pain is shoulder impingement, also known as shoulder impingement syndrome and swimmer’s shoulder. 

What is shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement is especially common among older people and people who play sports or have professions that require repetitive overhead movements. Baseball pitchers, golfers, swimmers, tennis players, and volleyball players are especially prone to shoulder injuries. 

Shoulder impingement is closely related to two other common shoulder injuries:

These injuries are related to inflammation in the shoulder tendons, tissues that connect muscle to bone, or bursa, a fluid-filled sac that surrounds the shoulder joint. Repetitive overhead movement can cause the bones to rub against the tendons or other tissues resulting in irritation and swelling. 

When these tissues swell, they fill the small space of the shoulder cavity and cause compression and further inflammation and rubbing. If left untreated, shoulder impingement can lead to a rotator cuff tear.    

Shoulder impingement signs and symptoms

The first sign of shoulder impingement is pain in the front and side of your shoulder, specifically when you reach behind your back or lift your arm overhead. Shoulder impingement can make simple everyday activities — such as putting on or taking off a sweater or reaching for a plate — painful.

Other symptoms include shoulder weakness and trouble sleeping because it’s challenging to find a comfortable position. Symptoms may develop slowly or come on suddenly.

Shoulder impingement treatment options

The goal of shoulder impingement treatment is to reduce pain and restore strength and mobility. The first course of treatment, as with most musculoskeletal issues, is noninvasive therapies, starting with rest and taking a break from the activity that caused it.

Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen and naproxen help reduce pain and swelling. Once the pain and swelling are under control, you can start a physical therapy program designed to help stabilize and strengthen the muscle surrounding your shoulder. We may recommend ultrasound therapy in conjunction with your physical therapy program.

If noninvasive treatments don’t reduce pain and restore function, a minimally invasive steroid injection to reduce inflammation may be the next line of treatment. If none of the above help, surgery can decompress the shoulder area, giving the tendons more room to move without rubbing against other bones or tissue. 

If you’re experiencing pain and weakness in your shoulder, call us today at the office of Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates in Castro Valley, California, for an appointment.

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