How to Fix Shoulder Impingement By Tackling The Root Cause

How to Fix Shoulder Impingement By Tackling The Root Cause

Shoulder impingement is one of the most common upper body musculoskeletal injuries. It can stop you from participating in sports and you may even have difficulty with small tasks like reaching up to the top cupboard in your kitchen. In this article I will explain to you what shoulder impingement is, and how to treat it.

But first let’s look at the anatomy of the shoulder and how it relates to impingement. You shoulder is made up of your humerus (arm bone) and your scapula (shoulder blade). The shoulder joint is very mobile and allows you to move your arms within a very wide range. In between the humerus and a bony projection off of the scapula, there is a small space which contains your rotator cuff tendons, your biceps tendon and a friction-reducing structure called a bursa. This space is called the subacromial space.

Depending on how you move your shoulder, the subacromial space can increase or decrease in size. When you lift your shoulders overhead, the space becomes much smaller at around shoulder-height level. When this space becomes too small it can irritate the structures within the space, causing symptoms of shoulder impingement.

So, what does shoulder impingement feel like exactly?

People with shoulder impingement experience stiffness and throbbing pain in their shoulder that resembles a toothache when they lift their arm horizontally or overhead. They also usually experiencing aching pain when they sleep on the affected side at night. They may also report shoulder weakness as a symptom.

Shoulder impingement can occur for a variety of reasons. The first one is a rotator cuff irritation or weakness. The rotator cuff, which is a group of 4 muscles that work to stabilize the shoulder, are very important in keeping the subacromial space open when completing overhead movements. If there is an injury to the rotator cuff, it will be less efficient in this task leading to symptoms of shoulder impingement.

Another common cause of shoulder impingement is poor posture habits. If you sit in a rounded posture for hours upon end it can irritate some of your postural muscles, namely your scapular stabilizers. These muscles also work to keep the subacromial space open during overhead motion. Some of these muscles include the Serratus Anterior, Middle Trapezius and Lower Trapezius. If these muscles are irritated with poor posture habits it can reduce their function and also lead to symptoms. 

Shoulder impingement may also be caused by overuse. Playing sports that require the shoulders to be in an overhead position repeatedly is one of the biggest contributors to developing shoulder impingement. 

These sports can include:

  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Lacrosse

Also, certain jobs that involve repetitive overhead work like construction work or painting can contribute to shoulder impingement.

Shoulder Impingement courtesy of PhysioPlus Health Group (Read the caption)

Shoulder Impingement Treatment

A Physiotherapist can diagnose and recommend a treatment plan to get you feeling better. This treatment plan can consist of shoulder, neck and mid-back exercises to help improve shoulder function and to strengthen the muscles to reduce the pain.

Here are 3 additional things you can do if you have shoulder impingement.

  • Temporarily stop doing painful activities that require you to lift your arm repeatedly such as basketball, swimming, and tennis.
  • Do not stop moving your arm altogether though. If you stop using your arm completely it may become weak and stiff. So try to do your daily activities as much as you can, as long as they are comfortable.
  • Try using heat for your shoulder. This can bring blood flow to the area which can reduce pain and loosen the surrounding muscles.

Strengthen your shoulders courtesy of Vitality Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre (Read the caption)

So when will my shoulder impingement go away?

This depends on what caused the injury. If it’s caused by overuse, poor posture habits or poor shoulder mechanics during lifting or throwing, recovery can take 4-8 weeks.

In some cases, surgery may be required. It is important to know that physiotherapy has been proven to be just as effective as surgery for shoulder impingement, however. Before having a surgical consult, you should first complete an assessment with a physiotherapist. 

They will get a detailed history of your injury, your activities, treatment you have attempted, etc.

Then they will assess your shoulder, shoulder blade, and spine to identify the root cause of your pain. They will then develop a customized treatment plan to fix it. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with one of our Physiotherapists just click the find a clinic near me button on this page.

Shoulder Pain courtesy of BeActive Physiotherapy and Wellness


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

If not treated properly it can lead to a more serious injury like a rotator cuff tear as well as other conditions.

Yes! Most people with shoulder impingement respond very favourably with physiotherapy.

A physiotherapist may use specific massage techniques like soft tissue release to get your shoulder moving more freely and to reduce impingement pain.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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