Shoulder Impingement

Blog, Shoulder, / By Winsen Citra

You may notice pain in the shoulders when doing overhead activities such as cleaning, swimming, painting, or other overhead sports. Chances are, you have what is called shoulder impingement. This is one of the most common shoulder conditions. Shoulder impingement, like the name suggests, results from compression of the shoulder tendon or bursa by the bones of the shoulder.

The pain caused by the impingement is usually persistent and may affect daily activities. Any activities that requires you to lift your hand above your head or behind your back can be a problem. So, simple things such as washing your hair or dressing can aggravate the pain!

How Does Shoulder Impingement Occur?

Shoulder Impingement occurs because of compression on the tendon and bursa that is in the shoulder. Ordinarily, these structures should not be pinched when we do our movement. However, due to our daily activities (repetitive overhead movements), muscle imbalance, or poor posture, we may cause an abnormal movement pattern in our shoulder. This abnormal movement pattern can cause the space in which the tendon and bursa usually sits in to shrink. As a result, these structures get compressed when you are lifting your arm up above your head.

If left untreated, the constant compression and rubbing can cause inflammation in the bursa and tendon, or even a tear in the tendon.

Shows how shoulder impingement happens
Mechanism of shoulder impingement
Shoulder Painful Arc
Shoulder Painful Arc

Common Symptoms

  • Pain when reaching behind your back
  • Painful arc when lifting shoulder in between 60 to 120 degrees
  •  Unable to lie on painful side due to pain in the shoulder
  • Muscle weakness when trying to lift objects
  •  As condition progresses, pain may be present at rest and it may become difficult to even raise your arms

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosing shoulder impingement can be done by a combination of taking your medical history and doing a physical examination. However, the best way to diagnose the condition is by using ultrasound. It is a relatively cheap test which shows if there is impingement, bursitis, tendonitis, or even a tear in the tendon.

How Is Shoulder Impingement Treated?

If you have seen a doctor, some anti inflammatory medication to ease the pain is usually prescribed by the doctor. We recommend that you combine the medication with shoulder exercises for optimum outcome. However, you need to be aware of the cause of your impingement in the first place. An impingement that is caused by poor posture will be treated differently from an impingement caused by poor shoulder blade movement. If you choose to do some random exercises that you found online, you risk making the condition worse. Exercises that are done incorrectly can cause the impingement to be worse. We recommend that you consult with a physiotherapist in order to establish the cause of the impingement and get the proper care for it.

Do drop us a line if you have any questions. Our team will get back to you as soon as we can. If you want more information on self help exercises and tips, check out our YouTube channel!
Our therapist Peh Chia has also demonstrated a shoulder strengthening exercise in the video below.