What is shoulder impingement?
Your shoulder joint is made up of various muscles and tendons that help provide joint mobility. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that cover the head of your upper arm bone. The head of your upper arm bone rests inside a hollow groove in the shoulder blade. Above the shoulder blade is a bony protrusion known as the acromion, which helps to protect the rotator cuff.
If the rotator cuff becomes swollen or irritated, it can cause the tendons to become pinched between the upper arm bone and acromion. This pinching of the tendons between bones is known as a shoulder impingement or shoulder impingement syndrome, which can cause pain, discomfort, and a decreased range of motion. Left untreated, a shoulder impingement may lead to rotator cuff tendinitis or shoulder bursitis.
What causes shoulder impingement?
Naturally, whenever you lift your arms to shoulder level, the space between your arm bone and acromion becomes constricted. This can cause the tendons located between your arm and acromion to become pinched and irritated.
Overexertion or overuse is one of the most common causes of shoulder impingement. Because of this, sports and other activities or occupations that require frequent or forceful overhead movements can increase your chances of developing a shoulder impingement.
Other causes for shoulder impingement may include:
- Being born with a narrow sub-acromial space
- Certain bone conditions which can cause narrowing of the sub-acromial space
- Engaging in activities that require routine shoulder use
- Overtraining or poor training habits
- Having an unstable shoulder
- Sudden trauma to the shoulder
- Lifting or moving heavy boxes
- Poor posture
What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement?
Symptoms of shoulder impingement may include:
- Impaired mobility e.g., having difficulties reaching behind your back
- Shoulder pain with overhead movements or when lifting your arms
- Weakness of the shoulder area
How is shoulder impingement diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or believe you have a shoulder impingement, an evaluation by an experienced medical professional can help determine the cause of your symptoms. To help diagnose shoulder impingement, your doctor will begin by going over your medical history and symptoms. Next, your doctor will perform various physical exams to help assess your mobility, strength, and degree of pain.
To ensure that your symptoms are not the result of similar conditions, your doctor may also examine your neck for signs of a pinched nerve or other conditions. Your doctor may also need to perform additional testing for further diagnosis. Additional testing may include X-rays and MRIs.
How is shoulder impingement treated?
If you are suffering from shoulder impingement and are seeking pain relief, there are surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available. Based on various factors, such as your activity level and health, treatment will vary.
Here at our practice, whenever possible, we aim to first recommend nonsurgical treatments to help restore mobility, alleviate pain, and prevent the progression of damage. Nonsurgical treatment options may include:
- Resting and avoiding overhead activities
- Avoiding activities that induce shoulder pain
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to bring down swelling and pain
- Physical therapy and exercise to improve shoulder strength and mobility
- Steroid injections to help alleviate pain
When nonsurgical treatment options are ineffective, we specialize in and offer surgical treatment options such as arthroscopy and open shoulder surgery to help effectively treat shoulder impingement. Platelet-rich plasma therapy may also be used to help promote natural healing, alleviate pain, and enhance recovery time.
If you are experiencing symptoms of shoulder impingement, a consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be the first step towards diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Dr. Burrus is an experienced fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who is dedicated to providing high-quality, specialized holistic care. Call 512.477.6341 or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment.