Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement is an injury sustained as a result of your supraspinatus tendon becoming pinched by a bone (the acromion) in your shoulder. The supraspinatus tendon is a component of the rotator cuff muscles and tendons which stabilise the shoulder and assist with shoulder movement. Damage to this area can compromise these everyday functions.

Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement

The affected shoulder is likely to feel considerably weakened, and this leads to problems with successful normal movements that are usually easy, such as stretching or raising the arm overhead, and reaching around to your back. These motions can be accompanied by recurrent pain in the shoulder, and some movements may feel very difficult to accomplish.

Causes of Shoulder Impingement

In terms of sports activities, it is athletes who compete in sports involving a high incidence of overhead arm motions who are most at risk of shoulder impingement. These activities include sports requiring great overhead swings of the arm like golf, tennis and cricket, and also overhead weightlifting. Repetitive movements like these can increase the likelihood of injury, especially if the athlete has picked up some unhealthy overuse habits in conjunction, such as continuing with exercise when the muscles are clearly fatigued or a failure to stretch and strengthen relevant muscles appropriately.

The condition can also be caused due to hereditary factors, such as being born with the offending bone (acromion) having a downward protruding hook that can push into the supraspinatus tendon. Certain arthritis conditions can also put you at risk, especially arthritis occurring underneath the acromion or near the acromioclavicular joint. Small pieces of bone can end up scraping and pinching the tendon. Rheumatoid arthritis and shoulder bursitis can also potentially contribute to the injury.

Treatment for Shoulder Impingement

You should see a doctor when you have identified any symptoms of impingement because the longer the injury remains untreated, the greater the chances of a complication. Rotator cuff tears and rupture of the biceps are the most common, and can cause the symptoms to worsen intensely, the arm becoming nearly impossible to lift. A doctor can assess the injury and order the necessary tests such as an x-ray or MRI.

They will advise you on any specific treatment required. In cases of major tearing or severe impingement it can be necessary to undergo arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem, and another rare treatment involves steroidal injections. However, for most regular impingement cases it will be sufficient to rest the shoulder from strenuous movements until you are pain free. Icing the area and taking suitable pain medication can help to relieve the symptoms, certainly for the first week.

Rehabilitation from Shoulder Impingement

When the doctor gives the go ahead, you can commence a program of physical therapy to help build up power and flexibility in the shoulder and make a gradual return to full activity. A professional can recommend appropriate mobility and strengthening exercises.

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