What is shoulder impingement?
You have probably heard of the term “shoulder impingement”, whether you have experienced it personally, or someone you know has had it in the past. Shoulder impingement is a common term that healthcare providers use to describe non-specific shoulder pain. It is often used as a diagnosis by many healthcare practitioners, which can be rather misleading as shoulder impingement is, in fact, a normal anatomical occurrence. Every time you lift your arm above a certain angle, soft tissue structures within your shoulder joint becomes encroached (or “impinged”) as they pass through the subacromial space – the space between your humerus and the end of your collarbone.
So, if this is normal, why does my shoulder hurt?
Since impingement is a typical anatomical process, it does not cause pain. It is only when these soft tissue structures become inflamed that we experience pain. Mechanical irritation of soft tissue structures such as your rotator cuff tendons and bursae can lead to pain and swelling. This then results in symptoms such as discomfort when elevating your arm in certain positions, pain with sudden movements of the affected arm, difficulty holding heavy objects, lying on the affected arm at night, and sometimes weakness after prolonged use of the sore arm. All of this can impact on day to day activities like driving, reaching for objects in the cupboard, brushing your teeth, washing your hair, even putting on a jacket or holding a handbag.
If you have shoulder pain, you have no doubt experienced some of these symptoms. However, everyone’s injury is different and the reason for your shoulder impingement will vary greatly compared to the next person.
It is our job as your physios to identify the why behind your shoulder pain so we can come up with a treatment plan.
How do you do that?
First and foremost, we want to hear your story and have a detailed conversation about your current shoulder problem, as well as other relevant issues. Then, through our physical testing of your shoulder, we attempt to figure out the following 3 things:
- Location of impingement – where is it?
- Type of impingement – primary, secondary, internal, external?
- What structures might be involved?
As shoulder impingement covers a large spectrum of conditions, all with multiple causes, it can be difficult to determine the type of impingement, or the structure causing your shoulder pain. However, a comprehensive history and thorough examination will give us the best indication of a diagnosis, and the best management for your shoulder pain.
What can I do about it?
If you have been diagnosed with shoulder impingement and are unsure of what to do, or if you have been treated in the past but have recurring episodes of shoulder pain, contact our friendly Physiotherapists, or email us here at Bend + Mend with any questions you may have. We are always happy to help.