What is it?

Impingement syndrome of the shoulder is a common complaint. It occurs when the soft tissues in the subacromial space get pinched or trapped between the head of the humerus and the acromion. The tissues that tend to get pinched most often in the subacromial space are the supraspinatus tendon and the long head of biceps tendon. The subacromial bursa, infraxpinatus and teres minor tendons may also get pinched here. The ligamentous network overlying the acromioclavicular joint can become calcified. Bony spurs can also reduce space in this joint and lead to discomfort.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Pain on shoulder movement, especially as the arm reaches a 90 degreee angle. At this angle, the tissues and inert structures are at their most compressed.
  • Pain at night
  • Tenderness on palpation of the anterior aspect of the shoulder joint
  • Limited shoulder range of movement
  • Shoulder muscle weakness

Who gets it and why?

  • Athletes that have to make repetitive and overhead movements, such as swimmers, and tennis players.
  • Occupations such as painters (e.g. painting a ceiling), or lifting heavy items overhead, are susceptible to shoulder impingement.
  • Elderly people can develop this condition as degeneration of the joint sets in.

Recovery and Prevention

The patient should avoid aggravating the joint further, and seek out treatment from a registered physical therapist to help alleviate symptoms. A targeted flexibility and strengthening plan will help to resolve the condition, so that the patient can return to sport or their occupation as soon as possible. In severe cases where complications can arise, medication and surgery are a last alternative.

How can physical therapy help?

Physical therapy treatment will be able to provide you with a diagnosis of the condition and hands on treatment to relieve pain and stiffness, and ensure the patient returns to their occupation or sport within two to three months.

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