Thump the top of your shoulder and you’ll feel bone. Directly beneath that is a group of muscles and tendons that make up the rotator cuff, which surround your shoulder joint, one of the most complex joints in the body.
When the rotator cuff is injured, it can become inflamed like any other connective tissue. Due to its position between and around the upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula), rotator cuff tendons can become pinched, causing pain. When this happens, it is known as shoulder impingement.
Athletes like swimmers and tennis or baseball players are commonly affected by shoulder impingement, which is why the condition is also sometimes called swimmer’s shoulder. Carpenters, painters, and anyone who performs a lot of repetitive overhead motions are also susceptible to shoulder impingement.
Shoulder impingement is characterized by constant pain in the upper arm and shoulder, which can radiate from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm and usually worsens at night or when reaching overhead. Symptoms can become progressively worse, and cause a loss of strength and limited range of motion in the arm.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and what type of activities you engage in. During the physical examination, your doctor may perform a series of movements to discern whether there is anything unusual and when pain occurs. X-rays or an MRI may be ordered to rule out other causes of your pain such as arthritis or bone spurs.
Depending on the severity of your impingement, there are a variety of ways to treat it.
Resting your arm and shoulder and avoiding any strenuous movements or exercises that might make the pain worse are generally the first steps. Even so, a sling is probably a bad idea because immobilization of the area may actually worsen your stiffness and weaken the shoulder further.
Icing the shoulder for 10-15 minutes at a time can help with swelling and pain. Physical therapy focused on the muscles of the shoulder, arm, and chest can help improve the function of your shoulder.
In most cases of shoulder impingement, it takes 3-6 months to heal although it can take up to a year. Your doctor will want to be updated on your progress to ensure that it continues to progressively heal and not get worse.
If nonsurgical measures do not improve the condition, surgery may be the only option for pain relief. Typically, this can be done using minimally invasive arthroscopic measures. In the most severe cases of impingement, there may also be tears in the rotator cuff that may require surgery to repair.
If you suffer from shoulder pain, it can dramatically affect your ability to carry out your daily duties – even simple ones like getting dressed when it is impossible to reach overhead to put on a shirt or behind your back to tuck a shirt in. Even reaching up into the pantry to get a box of cereal may cause pain and you may find yourself needing to rely on your other arm to perform tasks.
In Maryland, Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder can diagnose and treat any potential shoulder problem, including shoulder impingement or rotator cuff tendonitis. Call (410) 296-6232 to find out more. Or request an appointment now. Don’t wait until your shoulder problem gets any worse.