Shoulder Impingement

Monday March 9, 2015

“OUCH! I work out all the time, but all of a sudden, my shoulder is killing me every time I reach over head.”

Do you get a pinching pain when you reach overhead or have a painful arc of movement?  You may have shoulder/rotator cuff impingement.  What is shoulder impingement?  Due to muscular imbalances, the supraspinatus muscle (one of 4 rotator cuff muscles) is pinched between the shoulder blade and the head of the arm bone.

Most athletes really want to know when they can get back in the game after a rotator cuff injury. It’s hard to say. Recovery time depends on how serious the impingement is and if there is a tear. It may take weeks or months. People heal at different rates. Obviously, if you need surgery, recovery will take longer.

Don’t rush things. Do not resume the activity that caused your injury until:

  • You feel no pain in your shoulder
  • Your shoulder feels as strong as the uninjured one
  • You have almost normal range of motion
  • You can sleep on the shoulder
  • You can function as well as before the injury

Avoid overhead activities, keeping all weighted strengthening to shoulder height and below.  All over head reaching should be done with thumb up to create more room in the shoulder joint and, therefore, less impingement.

In the meantime, work on posture.  Much of impingement happens because the shoulder blades are rotated forward.  This does not give the tendons of the rotator cuff enough space to function without getting pinched between your arm bone and shoulder blade.  Start with shoulder blade squeezes down and back and /or wall push up with overpressure (push away from wall)

When you are ready to resume activity, see a trainer to make sure your exercises address any imbalances you have. Then get back to life and sport pain free.

By: Susan Kroll, MS, PT, CSCI