By Dr. David Huberty, ROC Orthopedic

Shoulder impingement is a common condition that affects many people, from athletes to office workers. As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder and upper extremity injuries, I’ve seen firsthand how this condition can impact daily life and activities. In this blog, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for shoulder impingement, helping you better understand this condition and how to manage it.

What is Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles become irritated and inflamed as they pass through the subacromial space, the narrow passage beneath the acromion (the top part of the shoulder blade). This irritation can lead to pain, weakness, and reduced range of motion in the shoulder.

How Common is Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder impingement is common, particularly among individuals who engage in repetitive overhead movements. While precise prevalence rates can vary, some studies suggest that shoulder impingement affects up to 20% of the general population at some point in their lives. It is especially common in:

1. Athletes: Sports that require frequent overhead motions, such as swimming, tennis, baseball, and volleyball, often see higher rates of shoulder impingement.

2. Manual Laborers: Jobs that involve repetitive lifting or overhead work, like construction, painting, or assembly line work, can increase the risk of developing shoulder impingement.

3. Older Adults: As people age, degenerative changes in the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues can make impingement more likely.

Given its prevalence, shoulder impingement is a significant concern that can impact many individuals, from athletes to office workers. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to managing symptoms and preventing long-term issues.


Causes of Shoulder Impingement

Several factors can contribute to shoulder impingement, including:

1. Overuse: Repetitive overhead activities, such as throwing, swimming, or lifting, can stress the shoulder joint and lead to impingement.

2. Anatomical Variations: Some individuals have a naturally narrower subacromial space, which can predispose them to impingement.

3. Poor Posture: Slouching or poor posture can alter the mechanics of the shoulder joint, increasing the risk of impingement.

4. Injury: Trauma or injury to the shoulder can cause inflammation and swelling, leading to impingement.

5. Age-related Degeneration: As we age, the tendons and other structures in the shoulder can degenerate, making impingement more likely.


Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement

The symptoms of shoulder impingement can vary but often include:

– Pain: A sharp or aching pain in the shoulder, particularly when lifting the arm or reaching overhead.

– Weakness: Reduced strength in the affected shoulder, making it difficult to perform daily activities.

– Limited Range of Motion: Difficulty moving the shoulder, especially when lifting the arm above the head.

– Tenderness: Tenderness and discomfort when pressing on the shoulder.


Diagnosing shoulder impingement typically involves a combination of a physical examination and imaging tests. During the physical exam, I’ll assess your shoulder’s range of motion, strength, and areas of tenderness. Imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans, can help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other potential causes of shoulder pain.

Treatment Options

Treatment for shoulder impingement aims to reduce pain, restore function, and prevent further injury. Depending on the severity of your condition, treatment options may include:

1. Rest and Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain can help reduce inflammation and allow the shoulder to heal.

2. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen the shoulder muscles, improve flexibility, and correct posture.

3. Medications: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be recommended.

4. Ice and Heat Therapy: Applying ice packs to the shoulder can help reduce swelling and pain, while heat therapy can relax the muscles and improve blood flow.

5. Surgical Intervention: Surgical options may be considered if conservative treatments fail to relieve symptoms. Arthroscopic surgery can remove the inflamed tissue and create more space in the subacromial area, relieving impingement.


Preventing shoulder impingement involves adopting healthy habits and techniques, such as:

– Maintaining Good Posture: Keeping your shoulders back and down can help maintain proper alignment and reduce stress on the shoulder joint.

– Strengthening Shoulder Muscles: Regular strength training exercises can help support the shoulder joint and prevent impingement.

– Stretching and Flexibility: Incorporating stretching exercises into your routine can improve flexibility and reduce the risk of impingement.

– Using Proper Technique: In sports or daily activities, proper technique can help prevent overuse injuries and reduce the risk of impingement.

Shoulder impingement can be a painful and limiting condition, but with the right treatment and preventive measures, you can manage symptoms and return to normal activities. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or suspect you have shoulder impingement, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at ROC Orthopedic. We’re here to provide expert care and help you get back to doing what you love. If you experience shoulder pain or have any questions, contact ROC Orthopedic today for an evaluation and personalized care plan.