Shoulder impingement, also known as swimmer’s shoulder or thrower’s shoulder, is a syndrome that occurs when the rotator cuff muscles become inflamed as they pass through the subacromial space in the shoulder.
Patients with impingement syndrome often complain of a gradual onset of pain in the front and on the side of shoulder. Pain is worse with overhead reaching, as well as with reaching out to the side, pushing, pulling, or overhead lifting. Patients sometimes have pain at night and inability to sleep on the side. Some people experience stiffness and pain radiating down the arm.
Impingement syndrome is easily treatable with conservative means. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, etc.) and rest from the causal activity may relieve the pain. Most patients are also given a course of physical therapy that focuses on stretching and then progresses into strengthening for the rotator cuff once the initial pain is resolved.
If physical therapy and NSAIDs do not result in improvement, a steroid injection may be considered after confirmation on an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that a rotator cuff tear does not exist. Surgical intervention, commonly a shoulder arthroscopy with subacromial decompression, is recommended for those who do not have relief with all of the above treatments.