Shoulder Impingement

A very painful injury, shoulder impingement may cause shoulder bursitis. Seeking the right treatment options as soon as possible will help relieve the pain and keep further injury from happening.

If you’re experiencing severe pain in your shoulder, it could be shoulder impingement syndrome. Dr. John Andrachuk provides years of experience diagnosing and treating shoulder injuries, including shoulder impingement. Dr. Andrachuk offers a top Orthopedic Sports Medicine surgeon in Atlanta for your treatment.

What is a Shoulder Impingement?

A very common cause of shoulder pain, shoulder impingement is also known as swimmer’s shoulder. It’s common in swimmers and other athletes, especially softball and baseball players.

Shoulder impingement happens when the rotator cuff catches or rubs against the top of the shoulder, called the acromion. Lifting your arm causes the space between the acromion and rotator cuff, called the bursa, to narrow. This increases pressure and the increased pressure can irritate the rotator cuff, which leads to shoulder impingement.

What Causes a Shoulder Impingement?

Overuse is the most common cause of shoulder impingement. Repeated use of the shoulder can cause the tendons to sell, which leads to catching on the upper shoulder bone. Repeated activity putting pressure on the shoulder may lead to shoulder impingement.

Some of the most common activities leading to shoulder impingement include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Swimming
  • Playing tennis
  • Participating in baseball or softball
  • Packing
  • Painting
  • Construction work

Age can also be a cause of shoulder impingement. The longer a person repeats a motion using the shoulder, the more likely they are to suffer from shoulder impingement. 

Shoulder Impingement Symptoms

Some of the most common signs you’re suffering from shoulder impingement include:

  • Difficulty lifting your arm above shoulder height
  • Pain in the should, especially when lifting your arm
  • Stiffness or throbbing in the shoulder
  • Aching or stiffness after resting your shoulder
  • Arm or shoulder weakness
  • Pain that increases at night
  • Limited range of motion

If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, it’s time to seek medical help.

Diagnosing Shoulder Impingement

Early diagnosis of shoulder impingement is important to treatment. The sooner you see a doctor, the better chance you can avoid the symptoms getting worse over time. 

Your doctor will likely start by asking medical history questions and performing a physical exam. They may move your arm in the socket or ask you to do a series of arm movements as they look for abnormalities.

In some cases, your doctor may order an X-ray or an MRI scan. Typically, these imaging tests are used to rule out other reasons why you might be suffering from shoulder pain, such as bone spurs or arthritis.

Your doctor may also inject lidocaine into the bursa. If your shoulder responds positively and you experience an improved range of motion, it’s considered a positive test for a shoulder impingement.  Not only can this test support the diagnosis, but it can also act as a therapeutic by relieving the pain.

In some cases, your doctor will use a real-time ultrasound scan to diagnose shoulder impingement injuries. Ultrasound scans provide a visual look at what is happening when your shoulder moves through the impingement zone.

Shoulder Impingement Treatment

If you believe you suffer from a shoulder impingement injury, rest is necessary for healing. It’s a good idea to move your shoulder as little as possible. However, a sling is not recommended as it can lead to stiffness and weakness.

Your doctor may also tell you to ice your shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day to help the swelling subside. 

Physical therapy is a common nonsurgical option to treat shoulder impingement injuries. Gentle exercises to help rebuild the range of motion and strength can help with the pain and help you get back to normal.

Sessions for physical therapy will focus on the muscles within the should, your chest, and your arms. These muscles can help support the function of the rotator cuff. It’s also possible your physical therapist will teach you proper techniques, if you’re an athlete, to help reduce the recurrence of the injury. 

Your doctor will likely prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help with the swelling and the pain. Steroid injections can also be used to help reduce pain and swelling.

A few other nonsurgical treatment options for shoulder impingement include:

  • Electrotherapy – Used to reduce pain and inflammation, ultrasound therapy is a common type of electrotherapy for shoulder impingement injuries.
  • Massage – Sports massage may be used to help relax any tight muscles in the upper back or rotator cuff. 
  • Corticosteroid injection – Your doctor may inject steroids directly into the shoulder to reduce inflammation. This is usually used if the injury persists for several months.
  • Posture Correction – Correcting posture in those with poor posture can help to loosen up muscles and provide more range of motion for the shoulder.

Shoulder Impingement Surgery

If nonsurgical treatments don’t work, shoulder impingement surgery is an option. The surgery will help to widen the space around your rotate cuff to allow for free movement. 

Arthroscopic, minimally invasive surgery is the most commonly used to treat shoulder impingement. Only in severe cases will a more traditional open surgery be used. If your rotator cuff was torn, surgery will likely be necessary to repair the tear. 

After surgery, you will likely need to wear an arm sling briefly and your surgeon will advise on how long to keep your arm in a sling.

How Long to Recover from Shoulder Impingement Injuries?

Depending on the severity of the injury, a shoulder impingement takes about three months to a full year to completely heal. Most patients will recover in three to six months, but more severe injuries may take as long as a year for a full recovery.

Schedule an Appointment Today!

With years of experience diagnosing and treating should impingement injuries, Dr. Andrachuk is the right choice for your medical needs. If you’ve been suffering from shoulder pain or your shoulder just doesn’t feel right, it’s time to seek medical help. Dr. Andrachuk offers the most conservative treatment options, along with the latest minimally invasive and arthroscopic options to ease your pain. Contact us today and schedule your in-person or telemedicine appointment!