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5 Ways to Treat Your Shoulder Impingement

5 Ways to Treat Your Shoulder Impingement

Swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder, thrower’s shoulder — shoulder impingement can go by a lot of different names, and they often correspond with the sport or action that caused the injury. Shoulder impingement is extremely common; in fact; one study found that shoulder impingement syndrome is the most common cause of shoulder pain, accounting for 44% to 65% of all shoulder complaints

For some, the pain of shoulder impingement syndrome can become so bad that it interferes with their daily activities and sleep. Thankfully, there are many ways to treat shoulder impingement to match the level of pain and damage done. 

Do you have shoulder pain that gets worse when you lift your arms or reach above your head? If so, come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he discusses the basics of shoulder impingement, its symptoms, and what treatment options are available. 

What is shoulder impingement?

The shoulder area crams a lot into a very small space. The upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula) come together with the rotator cuff facilitating a lot of the movement between the two. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach the two bones and help you do things like lift your arm. But when you lift your arm above your head, the space between the humerus and scapula narrows, effectively pinching, or impinging the tendons. Over time, repeated impingement causes swelling, which causes more pinching and creates a vicious cycle of pain. 


The symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome typically develop gradually over weeks or even months. Common symptoms include:

Shoulder impingement can often lead to rotator cuff injuries, including tendonitis and bursitis


  1. Rest. Impingement is the result of moving your arm above your head. If you’re a pitcher, tennis player, or swimmer, a few weeks away from the sport may give your shoulder time to heal. For those with serious impingement, try to avoid most arm activities while not keeping the shoulder totally immobile. 
  2. Anti-inflammatory medicine. Common anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can reduce the swelling and pain of impingement. This can be especially helpful for mild impingement. You should seek different treatment if you don’t see results in 10 to 14 days. 
  3. Physical therapy and stretching. A physical therapist can teach you the exercises most effective in strengthening and stretching the shoulder muscles. Continued exercise can help enhance your shoulder posture and improve your pain and range of movement. 
  4. Cortisone or steroid injections. When the swelling and pain just won’t dissipate, these injections may be the answer. Cortisone is a very effective anti-inflammatory medicine, and the rotator cuff can benefit from the direct injections. 
  5. Surgery. Severe impingement can eventually lead to rotator cuff tears. If this is the case in your situation, Dr. Nolan repairs your shoulder with arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique that uses a tiny camera and very thin surgical tools to repair the joint without adding the additional trauma of an open surgery. 

To learn more about shoulder impingement and your treatment options, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.

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