Understanding Shoulder Impingement

Understanding Shoulder Impingement


Impingement and related shoulder conditions

Impingement actually describes a variety of issues with the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff, along with other shoulder components. Impingement is often mistaken for two closely related shoulder conditions, tendinitis and bursitis:

  • Tendinitis – Deterioration and inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons

  • Bursitis – Irritation and swelling of the bursa (small, fluid-filled sacs that help the tendons move without friction).

Impingement, on the other hand, is all about where the shoulder is right now, explains Penn State orthopedics professor April D. Armstrong, MD. “When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion and rotator cuff narrows,” she says. “The acromion can rub against (or "impinge" on) the tendon and the bursa, causing irritation and pain.”

How symptoms arise

Typically shoulder impingement occurs in adults. It often happens to those who repeat motions in which their arms are raised, such as tennis players and car mechanics. You even hear about it sidelining pro athletes, such as Seattle Mariners’ pitcher Taijuan Walker. Anyone can suffer from it, though.

Frequently when someone experiences impingement, there isn’t a moment of injury that can be pinpointed. However, the initial symptoms often occur after a period of overexertion, such as doing yardwork or redecorating the house.

When impingement is present, the shoulder pain experienced by patients typically isn’t constant (as indicated above). When they are lying down or doing anything in which the arms are kept low, often the shoulder feels fine.

Instead, the pain is likely to occur when doing anything up high or behind the back (such as grabbing dishes from a cabinet or buttoning a dress), says South Carolina orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Geier. “[A patient] may complain of pain holding an object away from her body, such as pulling a carton of milk out of the refrigerator,” he adds. “And she might have pain at night or that wakes her up from sleep.”

Treatment and recovery

Even Dr. Armstrong, who is an orthopedic surgeon herself, says that surgery is generally not needed when you experience impingement. Instead, simple DIY (Do it yourself) tactics such as ice and rest can help. You can also go to a professional pain clinic for physical therapy. Physical therapy can help you change the way that you move your shoulder while working with anything up high. Stretches and exercises are prescribed to bolster flexibility and strength.

Are you experiencing impingement and want to get back up and active? Physical therapy is just one method that can be effective in treating your shoulder pain. At Flexogenix, our approach can restore your lifestyle without surgery or long recovery times. Request a fconsultation to learn more.

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