What is Shoulder Impingement and What’s the Best Way to Treat It?

What is Shoulder Impingement and What’s the Best Way to Treat It?

In this article I am going to show you how shoulder impingement happens and how you can fix it. But first I need to tell you about the anatomy of the shoulder.

Your rotator cuff is made up of a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize your shoulder joint. They work to keep the shoulder joint in an efficient position when completing movements like reaching overhead. When completing overhead movements a space in your shoulder, the subacromial space, that contains rotator cuff tendons, the biceps tendon and a bursa, becomes smaller. 

Shoulder impingement occurs when this space becomes too small and the contents of the space become pinched. This pinching can cause inflammation, pain, and a reduction in shoulder function,

Typically pain will occur during overhead movements, which is when the space becomes smaller. You may also experience a throbbing pain in the shoulder at rest. This can feel similar to a toothache pain.

In this article I will explain the main causes and most effective treatments for shoulder impingement.

What causes shoulder impingement?

Repetitive movements

Many sports such as baseball or swimming require repetitive overhead motions. When overuse involving these motions occurs it can irritate the rotator cuff, causing a lack of control of the subacromial space and subsequent joint irritation and inflammation. This can also happen to people who work in occupations that require repetitive overhead motions, such as painters or electricians.


Sustaining common sports injuries like a rotator cuff tear or a torn labrum can cause shoulder impingement. Direct injury to these structures can cause a decrease in function and lack of control over the subacromial space.

Poor technique

Employing poor technique can cause the subacromial space to become smaller in overhead positions. For example,  throwing a baseball involves a complex process which involves the shoulder blade, arm bone, collar bone, and spine. When there is a mobility issue or muscle weakness in any of these areas shoulder impingement can occur.

Check out this video to learn the great way to assess the mobility of your shoulders courtesy of PhysioPlus Health Group (Read the caption)

How do you fix shoulder impingement?

Typically the best shoulder impingement treatment is Physiotherapy. During physiotherapy you’ll start by completing gentle exercises to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder and to restore range of motion. Eventually you will complete more advanced exercises to help you handle the loads placed on your shoulder during your sport or occupation. A physiotherapist can even teach you proper technique to reduce the chances of it happening again.

In fact, studies show that Physiotherapy is effective at improving range of motion and reducing pain in those with shoulder impingement.

When you first see a Physio they will take a thorough history of your injury. Then they will take you through specific movements of your shoulder, shoulder blade, and spine to identify the root cause of your pain. Based on these assessments, they will then create a custom treatment plan to get you feeling better. The main component of this treatment plan will be shoulder exercises.

Others ways to treat it include:

Apply ice to your shoulder for 20 minutes two times per day. This helps reduce inflammation which is important during the early stages of recovery.

If your doctor approves, ibuprofen is good to take to provide temporary pain relief.

Try to temporarily avoid activities where you have to reach over your head. Doing so can make your pain worse when your shoulder structures are irritated.  Once your pain improves then you can gradually start adding these activities back in.

Check out this post from BeActive Physiotherapy about rotator cuff injury (Read the caption):

How long does a shoulder impingement take to heal?

It all depends on what caused it, pain severity, and adherence to your treatment plan. If the root cause is from repetitive movements, trauma, posture, or poor shoulder mechanics then recovery typically takes 4-12 weeks with Physiotherapy.

The most important thing you can do to ensure improvement is to dedicate yourself to your treatment plan. By doing this many see improvement in a few weeks to a month. If you need a physiotherapist who specializes in shoulder injuries to create a custom treatment plan just use the search box on this page to find a top clinic near you.

Check out this video from Strive Health and Performance and try shoulder scaption exercise:


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

The best sleep position for shoulder impingement is sleeping on your back. This way no pressure is placed directly on your shoulder. This position can provide pain free sleeping. If you are a side sleeper, however, you may prefer to sleep on the non painful side. You can also place a pillow in between your body and the painful shoulder.

It’s best to temporarily avoid any overhead movements, especially throwing. Also certain types of exercises like overhead presses, pull downs, bench press, and others that involve the shoulder may need to be modified.

Untreated shoulder impingement can lead to worsening symptoms and even tendonitis and bursitis of the shoulder.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.

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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