One of the more common causes of shoulder pain is shoulder impingement syndrome. When the bones in the shoulder interfere with the function of the tendons or bursa it is most often diagnosed as impingement. Repetitious or heavy overhead activity of the shoulder are the risk factors most commonly associated with the condition. A very common sport that causes injury in the shoulders is weight lifting. That is particularly when heavy, overhead pressing is involved.

Impingement syndrome is generally characterized by both aching and sharp pain from the shoulder joint. The severity of the injury and the stage of the condition both determine the level of pain. If the shoulder is not decisively treated by medical procedures or therapy, simple actions such as hanging up a coat can be excruciating.

The three bones of the shoulder joint are the clavicle, humerus and scapula. To most people these are simply the collarbone, shoulder blade, and upper arm. The shoulder joint itself is a ball and socket. The bone of the upper arm is inserted into the rotator cuff allowing the widest range of movement of any joint in the body. The bursa is a lubricating sack that pads the rotator cuff and allows the tendons to work and move when the arm is moved.

Characteristics And Causes Of Shoulder Impingement

A wide range of associated medical disciplines such as the Center for Orthopaedics of West Orange New Jersey agree on the basis for the condition. When an injury of the shoulder joint affects this sack it leads to eventual pain as the elements of the joint lose the protection needed. While injuries commonly cause the condition, they are by no means the only cause.

Some people have a genetically produced curved acromion that narrows the space in the rotator cuff. As a person with this condition ages, bony spurs develop resulting in osteoarthritis. The body’s natural defense is to produce bony spurs that also narrows the space needed for normal shoulder movement. Not dealing with impingement when it first arises with mild symptoms will inevitably lead to debilitating impingement and necessary medical care.

Shoulder impingement is medically broken down into classifications.

  • External primary impingement is when the condition is caused by genetic abnormalities that cause bone spurs to impinge the tendons.
  • External secondary impingement is due to poor stability in the shoulder blade that alters physical position of the acromion. This causes impingement on the tendons and significant pain to the patient. It can also be caused by dynamic repetitive use resulting in muscle imbalance.
  • Internal Impingement is found most often in athletes such as pitchers. This type results from repetitive damage to the rotator cuff impinging the tendons and causing pain at the back of the joint.

Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to restored joint health

An unfortunate reality is that patients commonly do not seek any kind of diagnosis or treatment in the early stages of the condition. Initial pain and impingement is often mild and develops with time. Symptoms at this point are often just annoying.

As time goes on and the characteristics described above continue to develop, the pain becomes more severe. Sleep may become difficult when the patient cannot get in a comfortable position for their shoulder. Swelling and tenderness may present at some point, especially in the case of injury or development of arthritis.

Athletes resisting treatment may further damage the joints with their activity resulting in complete debilitation. They may cause permanent injury that cannot be resolved. Tennis, volleyball, baseball and other throwing and swinging sports are particularly common causes of long term or chronic pain and impingement.

What to expect getting an accurate shoulder impingement diagnosis

A course of treatment for shoulder impingement syndrome requires first discussing your symptoms and medical history with your doctor. He or she will go through a routine examination to check for tenderness, inflammation and any possible referred pain. The physician will also test your arm for strength and mobility. A note of interest is helpful here. Getting a medical exam does not consign you to long term medical procedures, medications or surgery. It is simply to get a focused and accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain or lack of mobility.

A general physician, may, if warranted, refer you to a specialist for further tests, x-rays and a comprehensive discussion of medical or self treatment procedures. A referral for physical therapy is often prescribed. This will often be for initial treatment followed by instructions for home therapy and continued improvement. The Mayo Clinic has published a helpful book titled The Mayo Clinic Book Of Home Remedies. It provides self therapy techniques including for arthritis and tendonitis.

If your shoulder pain and impingement is investigated and diagnosed early, the chance of regaining full health to the joint is good. Your body has a remarkable way of recovery and healing when you become proactive in your own therapy.

Mike Robards is a long time health and fitness enthusiast who has had extensive experience dealing with spine and joint conditions. He is a contributor of exercise solutions for joint restoration to websites such as Spine Alert.