What is shoulder impingement?


Shoulder impingement is a condition where the rotator cuff tendons become inflamed as they pass through the acromion.  In more simplistic terms, it is where some tendons become irritated as they are rubbed or pinched between two bones in the shoulder.  It is sometimes referred to as sub-acromial impingement or rotator cuff tendonitis. 


What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the front or side of the shoulder.
  • Pain made worse by lifting your arm out to the side
  • Pain on overhead activity
  • Aching at night
  • Difficulty in getting dressed.
  • Weakness in your arm.


How can shoulder impingement occur?

The shoulder has a great range of movement but we have sacrificed stability in the joint to achieve this.  There is a limited amount of space under the acromion for all the tendons to pass, space which is reduced the higher we reach our arms.

  • Repetitive overhead activity can cause the tendons to become irritated and inflamed.
  • A muscle imbalance can also cause the tendons to be ‘pulled’ slightly out of place which exposes them to more irritation.

Shoulder impingement


How to improve shoulder impingement

  • Resting the shoulder from activities which cause pain should be the first step.
  • Ice can help reduce pain and inflammation, especially if you have just aggravated it.
  • Your physio will be able to show you how to strengthen the shoulder in a pain free way.
  • Steroid injections have been shown to help. This is not a fix on its own, the injection reduces the inflammation and provides a window of opportunity to strengthen the rotator cuff and other muscles to prevent the symptoms returning.

Other Tips

As a last resort surgery may be recommended to surgically improve the space underneath the acromion bone.