Your Impingement Syndrome Guide — Causes and Treatment

Your doctor just told you that a condition called “impingement syndrome” is the reason behind your persistent shoulder pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility. Now you need to know what that means and how serious it is. 

The first thing you should know is that impingement syndrome is a shoulder injury that occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff become pinched (impinged) between the upper arm and the tip of the shoulder. The pinching happens when you move your arm and shoulder. 

The second thing you should know is that impingement syndrome is a treatable injury that improves with time, care, and guidance from your doctor. 

One of the best things you can do as a patient is educate yourself about the causes and effective treatment options for impingement syndrome. This can help you be more proactive and involved with your treatment plan as you work with your doctor to find relief and healing.

The team at BEST Surgery and Therapies has put together the following guide to help you get started. After you read through the guide, please call us to take the next step in your treatment journey.

Primary Causes of Impingement Syndrome

The most common cause of impingement syndrome is repetitive motion. Moving your arm and shoulder through the same motion over and over again leads to inflammation, swelling, and damage to the muscles and tendons in the shoulder. After a while, the swollen and inflamed tendons start pinching and rubbing against the shoulder bones during movement.

Impingement syndrome is a common sports-related injury. In fact, the condition is sometimes called “swimmer’s shoulder” because swimmers frequently develop it. Other athletes like tennis players, baseball players, volleyball players, and rowers are also more likely to develop impingement syndrome. 

Other causes and risk factors include shoulder injuries from a fall or car crash, age, and arthritis.

Treatment Includes Rest, Anti-Inflammatory Medication, and Therapy

Impingement syndrome worsens over time without proper care and treatment. At first, you may have shoulder pain, stiffness, weakness, difficulty lifting and lowering your arm, and pain when lying on the affected side. Feeling a grating or catching sensation during arm movement is another common symptom. But over time, chronic tendon inflammation can lead to other, more serious injuries, like a rotator cuff tear or rupture.  

That’s why starting treatment early and following your doctor-prescribed treatment plan is crucial for healing. Initial treatments may include a combination of the following:

  • Rest
  • Ice/heat therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Modifying activities to reduce stress on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff
  • Therapeutic stretching
  • Physical therapy
  • Cortisone injections

Remember to be patient with the healing process. Impingement syndrome can take several weeks, or even several months, to heal completely. 

Should You Consider Surgery?

If conservative treatment isn’t effective or your injury continues to worsen, surgery is an option. The primary goal of surgery is to create more space in the shoulder joint for the rotator cuff tendons to move freely. 

Arthroscopy is the most common surgical technique for impingement syndrome. It’s a minimally invasive procedure that is performed on an outpatient basis in most cases. During the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will shave down or remove part of the acromion (the bony tip of the shoulder blade) to create more space and take pressure off the rotator cuff tendons. If you have bone spurs, arthritis damage, or tears, your surgeon can repair these injuries during the same surgery. 

After the procedure, you’ll need physical therapy and rehabilitation to regain shoulder strength and mobility and resume your normal activities. 

The Shoulder Experts at BEST Surgery and Therapies Can Help

At BEST Surgery and Therapies, our multidisciplinary team has extensive experience helping patients with shoulder impingement syndrome heal and find the relief they deserve. We believe in patient-centered care, and will help you develop a personalized treatment plan that is built around your unique diagnosis and lifestyle. We’ll get you back to the people and activities you’ve been missing as soon as possible! 
Please reach out to our patient care team today to learn more.