Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a common cause of shoulder pain. It happens when the supraspinatus tendon is impinge in the shoulder joint. Repeated overhead activity of the shoulder is a risk factor for shoulder impingement syndrome. Examples include: badminton, lifting, swimming, tennis and other overhead sports. Other risk factors include uncoordinated shoulder blade movements, bone and joint abnormalities.

With impingement syndrome, pain is persistent and affects everyday activities. Activities such as washing your hair or reaching up overhead to put on a coat or blouse, for example, may cause pain.

Over time, impingement syndrome can lead to inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons (tendinitis) and bursa (bursitis). If not treated appropriately, the rotator cuff tendons can start to thin and tear.


What are the Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

The classical symptoms of impingement syndrome include difficulty performing overhead movements, sharp pain, difficulty lying on the affected shoulder and weak or atrophied shoulder muscles.

If tendons are injured for a long period of time, the tendon can actually tear in two, resulting in a rotator cuff tear. This causes significant weakness and may make it difficult for the person to elevate his or her arm.


How is Impingement Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of impingement syndrome begins with a thorough history taking and physical examination by your clinician. X-rays will be taken to rule out arthritis or fractures. Bone spurs or changes in the normal contour of the bone may be present.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound create better images of soft tissues like the rotator cuff tendons. They can show fluid or inflammation in the bursa and rotator cuff. In some cases, partial tearing of the rotator cuff will be seen.


How is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome Treated?

Painkillers are usually given for six to eight weeks since it often takes that long to fully treat the problem. You should do this under the care of a doctor because these medications can cause stomach irritation and bleeding.

In addition to taking medication, you should also be treated by a physiotherapist. The initial focus will be pain relief and maintaining shoulder range of movements and muscle strength. Once your pain is improving, your physiotherapist will work with you on restoring normal shoulder movements and strengthening the shoulder.  You will also be given some home exercise to follow.