Shoulder Impingement Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Shoulder impingement syndrome – also known as swimmer’s shoulder – is a common cause of shoulder inflammation and pain. This condition occurs when the tendons or bursa in the shoulders are misaligned or aggravated. Shoulder impingement syndrome is common among those who engage in repeated activity. The constant and repeated movement – such as swimming – causes stress on the shoulder tendons. If left untreated, the tendons could tear into two, causing rotator cuff tear.

Causes of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Any types of overhead activities – such as swimming, tennis, and discus throwing – can cause shoulder impingement syndrome. This condition is also caused by bone abnormalities and joint anomalies. Repeated overhead movements – such as reaching up behind the back or reaching overhead – could also cause Shoulder impingement syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

The most common symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome are pain with overhead use of the arms, weak shoulder muscles, and difficulty reaching up from behind. If the condition has progressed to rotator cuff tear, the symptoms and signs include chronic pain, significant weakness of the arms and weak biceps.

Treating rotator Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Pain Medication

The quickest, most practical way to treat Shoulder Impingement Syndrome pains is by taking oral pain medication. Over the counter medications such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen can reduce pain and inflammation. However, it will only mask the symptoms and not the root cause of the condition. To treat the condition with pain relievers, you need to consult your doctor first. Excessive dose of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers could cause stomach irritation or gut bleeding.

Cold Therapy

Another effective remedy for pain caused by Shoulder Impingement Syndrome is cold therapy. Essentially, you will apply an ice pack over the painful spot. Leave the ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times per day to reduce pain and inflammation. Just make sure to wrap a towel over the skin to protect yourself from ice burn.


Stretching also helps reduce pain, ease inflammation and restore range of movement. Start with a warm shower to loosen the muscles and stretch the arms slowly. Avoid any repetitive activities that could injure the shoulders even more. You can also ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist to treat this condition. Regular exercise also helps strengthen the supraspinatus rotator cuff. As long as you don’t put too much pressure in the supraspinatus rotator cuff, you can perform low-impact exercises.

Chiropractic Treatments

A chiropractor can help soothe pain and massage the affected area. Once a chiropractor diagnoses the condition, you will be given a treatment plan. The objective of the treatment is to reduce pain, ease stress of the tendons and restore range of movement. But if the condition is caused by a sport injury, we strongly recommend seeing a doctor instead.


In extreme cases of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, surgery is needed. Your doctor will check the affected area through MRI, arthrogram or ultrasound to rule out rotator cuff tear. If the cuff is torn, then your doctor will recommend surgery to repair it.