Shoulder impingement syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome involves pain and sometimes weakness if the arm is raised. This usually occurs if a muscle tendon “catches” in the shoulder. It involves the rotator cuff tendon which connects the shoulder muscles to the top of the arm. Both muscle and tendon run via the narrow space at the top of the shoulder or subacromial space.

There is also continuous ache in the shoulder and pain at night time. The condition can start abruptly after an injury or can occur gradually without any obvious cause.

Possible causes

The subacromial space is already narrow, especially if the arm is raised. Anything that causes further narrowing of the space can trap the tendon. The usual causes include the following:

  • Development of bone spurs beneath the bony roof above the subacromial space
    Shoulder impingement syndrome

    A doctor should be consulted if the individual experiences continuous shoulder pain.

  • Thickening or swelling of the rotator cuff tendon from overuse or injury of the shoulder
  • Inflammation of the bursa between the rotator cuff tendon and acromion
  • Accumulation of calcium deposits inside the rotator cuff tendon

When to consult a doctor

A doctor should be consulted if the individual experiences continuous shoulder pain. The doctor should be able to diagnose shoulder impingement syndrome based on the symptoms and assessment of the shoulder. The individual is also instructed to perform some specific arm motions to determine the root of the pain.

In case the cause is unclear, the doctor might refer the individual to a specialist where some scans are performed to rule out other possible causes of the pain.

Care measures at home

If shoulder impingement syndrome is only mild, there are measures that can be done such as:

  • Allowing the tendon to rest – avoid any movements where the arm is raised to prevent further inflammation or damage.
  • Ice packs – hold an ice pack on the shoulder for about 20 minutes several times throughout the day to relieve the pain. Do not apply directly on the skin. The pack should be wrapped with a towel or cloth.
  • Pain medications – the mild non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can provide transitory pain relief and available in gel or tablet form. If the pain is severe, a more potent variant such as codeine is prescribed.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on shoulder impingement syndrome is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage muscle and joint injuries including shoulder impingement syndrome, register for a first aid and CPR course with Kelowna First Aid.