Key Points about Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

  • When the shoulder bones cause impingement of the tendons or bursa in the shoulder, impingement syndrome may occur.
  • The most common syndrome of shoulder impingement syndrome is persistent shoulder pain that makes overhead activities difficult.
  • People who perform activities that require repetitive overhead movements such as swimming, tennis, lifting, and painting are at higher risk for developing shoulder impingement syndrome.
Common related conditions
Frozen Shoulder Shoulder Dislocation Shoulder Strains and Sprains


Shoulder impingement syndrome, also known as impingement syndrome, occurs when the bones of the shoulder impinge on the tendons or bursa in that area.

Impingement syndrome causes persistent pain and can cause disrupt you from performing your everyday activities, like reaching up overhead, putting on a coat, or reaching up behind the back can cause pain.

If left untreated, impingement syndrome can lead to inflammation of tendons (tendinitis) and/or bursa (bursitis). If not treated correctly, the rotator cuff tendons will begin to thin and tear. 

Shoulder impingement syndrome causes

Most of the time, impingement syndrome is caused by overuse. Using your shoulder repeatedly can cause the tendons to swell and ‘catch’ on the upper shoulder bone.

In other cases, the cause is unknown.

Shoulder impingement syndrome symptoms

The primary symptom of shoulder impingement syndrome is a sudden pain in the shoulder when you lift your arms above your head. 

Other symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome include:

  • Shoulder and arm weakness
  • Worse pain at night
  • Minor and constant pain in the arm
  • Pain from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm

Shoulder impingement syndrome complications

When not diagnosed and treated immediately, shoulder impingement can lead to rotator cuff degeneration and potentially a tear.

Other complications associated with shoulder impingement include:

  • Frozen shoulder
  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Long-term pain in the shoulder or arm

Shoulder impingement syndrome risk factors

Impingement syndrome is most common in young athletes and middle-aged people. People who participate in sports or jobs that require an individual to perform repetitive overhead activity are at a higher risk of developing it.

These jobs and sports may include:

  • Baseball, tennis, and swimming
  • Painters, carpenters or electricians

Shoulder impingement syndrome prevention

  • Train smart: If you are exercising, don’t do too much too fast. Ramp up your training at a reasonable rate.
  • Balance your muscles: Try not to focus on exercising one muscle and balance your workouts. Impingement can happen from overusing the muscles in the shoulders.
  • Posture: Poor posture can cause shoulder impingement.
  • Keeping inflammation under control: After working out, exercising, or working intensely, apply ice on your shoulder for about 20 min.
  • Move correctly: If you are playing sports, be sure you are moving correctly and have someone analyze your movements.

Shoulder impingement syndrome diagnosis

You doctor will review your medical history to understand your exercise habits and perform a physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will evaluate your range of motion. To confirm your diagnosis, your doctor may also order an X-ray or MRI.

Shoulder impingement syndrome treatment

Your doctor will recommend ice compressions and rest as a first-line treatment for shoulder impingement syndrome. You will also need to limit or avoid strenuous exercise until your pain subsides.

For more severe cases, treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy – Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles in the shoulder.
  • Medications – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil can relieve pain and swelling
  • Surgery – Shoulder surgery impingement surgery is a last resort option. If needed, your doctor will repair the injury by widening the space around the rotator cuff.

Most cases will heal in three to six months, but more severe cases can take up to a year to heal.

When should I seek care?

If you are experiencing symptoms related to shoulder impingement syndrome, contact your doctor to make an appointment. Especially if you play a sport or have a profession that requires you to do repetitive overhead activities.

Next Steps

Your doctor will develop a custom treatment plan for your case. If your condition is mild, ice, rest, and modifying your activity level will relieve your symptoms. When necessary, your doctor will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms change or worsen.

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