Shoulder Impingement

What is shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement is a condition characterised by the inflammation of the tendons of the shoulder joint. It is one of the most common causes of pain in the adult shoulder. The shoulder is a 'ball-and-socket' joint. The ‘ball' at the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) fits neatly into the 'socket’ or glenoid cavity, which is part of the shoulder blade (scapula). Shoulder impingement is also called swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder, or rotator cuff tendinitis.

Causes of shoulder impingement

Impingement results from pressure on the rotator cuff from part of the shoulder blade (scapula) as the arm is lifted. It is more likely to occur in young and middle-aged individuals who engage in physical activities that require repeated overhead arm movements. The pain may be due to bursitis or inflammation of the bursa overlying the rotator cuff or a tendonitis of the cuff itself. In some circumstances, a partial tear of the rotator cuff may cause impingement pain.

Symptoms of shoulder impingement

Individuals with shoulder impingement may experience severe pain at rest and during activities, weakness of the arm and difficulty in raising the hand overhead.

Diagnosis of shoulder impingement

Diagnosis involves physical examination by the doctor; wherein, the doctor checks for the possible range of movements with the affected shoulder. X-rays and MRI scans may be ordered to determine injury and inflammation.

Treatment of shoulder impingement

Conservative treatment options

Shoulder impingement can be treated with rest, ice packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and avoiding the activities that causes pain. Physical therapy may be advised to strengthen the muscles and steroid injections may be given if pain persists.


Arthroscopic surgery is recommended if the rotator cuff tendons are torn and to remove the bony spurs.