Shoulder Impingement Explained

Monday, April 11, 2016

Impingement syndrome is a common condition affecting the shoulder often seen in aging adults, weight-lifters and sports that involve reaching up behind the back and reaching overhead.

When an injury happens in the shoulder muscles, they swell and create pressure against the surrounding bone.  This cuts off the blood flow to the muscle tissue and causes the damage.


The typical symptoms of shoulder impingement include weakness of the shoulder muscles and difficulty reaching up behind the back resulting in pain.

If you ignore a shoulder injury for a long time, the muscles may eventually tear completely causing marked weakness and permanently restricting your arm movements.  In some cases the shoulder damage goes on to cause a rupture of the biceps.


This is usually done by a physical examination and X-rays to check for arthritis and changes in the bones.  Sometimes instead of repairing the damage with new muscle cells, the body produces new bone cells called bone spurs.

Shoulder impingement syndrome can also be confirmed by the injection of an anaesthetic into the space below one of the shoulder bones.  If this stops the pain, you’ve got shoulder impingement.


This is usually anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, which you’ll have to take for about eight weeks for it to reduce the swelling.  If you stop taking the medication after a few days, the problem will still be there and the pain will return.

Your doctor may consider the option of injecting a type of cortisone into the damaged area to reduce excessive swelling.  However, this treatment should be used with caution as it can weaken your muscles and tendons.


It’s important to realise that there are no drugs that can cure shoulder impingement and only physiotherapy can help you regain the muscle strength and range of movement you had before the injury.

Your physio will design a personal course of treatment that takes into account your individual requirements.  A combination of heat treatment or ultrasound, massage, hydrotherapy, stretching, exercise and gentle joint manipulation will effectively reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing process.

Start early – heal quicker 

Always start physiotherapy as soon as your doctor or therapist suggests it, because it’s the only way to deal with the early scar tissue that restricts mobility, before it becomes rigid. People who have supervised physio treatment for shoulder impingement syndrome and follow the home exercises prescribed usually recover completely with no problems!

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