Shoulder impingement is one of the most common causes of pain in the shoulder region.
Your rotator cuff (which consists of 4 muscles) attaches to the arm bone, or humerus. On its way to and near this attachment, it runs under a bony bridge with the acromion over these muscles. The space between the humerus and acromion is not very big to begin with, and other factors can actually compress that space even further.
This results in shoulder impingement.
Causes and Consequences of Shoulder Impingement
Some possible causes behind shoulder impingement include the following:
- Trauma or injury
- Repetitive overuse (e.g., athletes who perform a lot of overhead or rotational motions with the shoulder)
- Bone spurs
- Degenerative wear and tear
When this space where the rotator cuff is sandwiched between becomes pinched, it can cause the rotator cuff to rub on the bony surfaces. This will only further irritate the muscles, contributing to swelling in the region and more of a reduced space.
When someone has shoulder impingement, certain motions will become noticeably painful. This primarily includes overhead and rotational directions, such as reaching behind the back.
Not only is it painful to raise the arm overhead, but lowering from an overhead position will also be more challenging and uncomfortable.
With limited use of the arm, you may begin to notice weakness as well.
Top Tips for Managing Shoulder Impingement
If you’re experiencing ongoing pain that could be related to shoulder impingement, one of the first things you should do is consult with your doctor and a rehab specialist.
The sooner you receive an official diagnosis and rule out other possible factors, the sooner you can start on the road to recovery.
In the meantime, there are also some things you can do at home to make your life easier and lessen your pain.
Such a simple concept, but very challenging for many.
Don’t completely avoid using the arm, but if something you’re doing is making pain worse, DON’T push through it.
With shoulder impingement, there is likely inflammation occurring in and around the rotator cuff. Ice can help with reducing this inflammation and pain.
The more inflammation and pain are reduced, the sooner you can use your arm like normal again.
3. Don’t Push Through Pain
This was briefly mentioned above but deserves its own point. Constantly pushing through pain will only make you hurt worse! It will also keep that inflammatory process going, which won’t help relieve pressure from the irritated rotator cuff.
You can use the arm, but don’t abuse it.
4. Proper Positioning
Make sure to keep the shoulder supported and secure when at rest.
This might include keeping a pillow under the arm while sitting or sleeping, in order to avoid causing more pressure or discomfort around the rotator cuff.
While sleeping, try to avoid lying directly on the painful side.
5. Gentle Home Exercise
When working with a rehab specialist, depending on your specific limitations, you’ll be assigned a home exercise program. Following this program is key to a full recovery.
It’s important to optimize and regain a pain-free range of motion as soon as possible. As your range of motion returns to normal, indicating the rotator cuff is not as inflamed and irritated, you’ll also need to initiate gentle rotator cuff strengthening and stabilization exercises.
Just like what was already mentioned, don’t push your exercises into a more painful range. Keep things gentle.
It also never hurts to ice after you exercise to continue reducing pain, soreness and inflammation.
Hopefully these tips can help give you some relief if you’re experiencing shoulder impingement. Stay consistent with your home program and you’ll be back to normal in no time!