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What Is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

A common cause of shoulder pain, shoulder (subacromial) impingement syndrome occurs when the rotator cuff muscles and tendons become thickened or inflamed. This condition often results from repetitive overhead arm movements, such as those that may be involved in swimming, playing tennis, lifting and painting. Poor posture is also known to significantly contribute to subacromial impingement syndrome.

Shoulder impingement can be problematic because the space available for the rotator cuff muscles, tendons and bursa (subacromial space) is very narrow and decreases ever further whenever the arm is raised. In a healthy shoulder, this reduction in space is usually not an issue, but when inflammation is present, the soft tissues in the shoulder can become pinched or irritated. That’s why shoulder impingement syndrome can be painful and disruptive, even during everyday activities.

What does shoulder impingement syndrome feel like?

Some common symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome include:

  • A sharp pain or “catching” sensation whenever the arm is raised overhead
  • Difficulty reaching the arm up behind the back
  • Shoulder muscle weakness

Left untreated, an inflamed shoulder tendon can weaken and tear in two, resulting in a rotator cuff tear. This condition can cause significant shoulder muscle weakness and may make it difficult to lift the arm. As the impingement process progresses, it can also cause the biceps muscle to rupture.

How is shoulder impingement syndrome treated?

In many cases, shoulder impingement syndrome can be treated effectively with conservative therapies, such as rest, activity modifications, daily stretching in a warm shower and ice applications. The goals of treatment are to reduce swelling and boost blood circulation, which can aid healing by promoting the delivery of essential nutrients to the damaged tissues. If needed, oral anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful for relieving pain. Evaluating and treating the cause of the impingement; e.g., poor posture or a muscle imbalance, is an essential part of physical therapy.

To evaluate persistent symptoms or significant muscle weakness, a physician may order an imaging scan to confirm or rule out a rotator cuff tear. If the rotator cuff is torn, surgical repair may be recommended. The board-certified and double-board-certified surgeons at Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, perform arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs as well as shoulder stabilization procedures, minimally invasive shoulder replacements, Latarjet operations and other procedures to address various conditions affecting the shoulder.

If you’d like to learn more about shoulder impingement symptoms and treatment options, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, today.