Impingement Syndrome

What is Impingement Syndrome?

Impingement syndrome is also called by a variety of names including swimmer’s shoulder, shoulder impingement syndrome, painful arc syndrome and subacromial impingement. Despite the common names, impingement syndrome can happen for a variety of reasons other than swimming such as painting, moving furniture, throwing a ball, playing tennis or doing home repairs.

If the arms need to go over the head a lot then impingement syndrome should be expected. Pain is caused in the shoulder area by tendons rubbing against the shoulder blade. Swelling and pain results. It can affect all people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds but active people who have suffered from shoulder injuries like shoulder bursitis are most prone to developing impingement syndrome.

What are the Symptoms of Impingement Syndrome?

Right after the injury to the shoulder, the area will swell up and may cut off some blood flow to the small blood vessels in the shoulder. The shoulder itself may or may not appear or feel swollen.

Symptoms of impingement syndrome can come on gradually but they do get worse over time if treatment is not sought. Patients suffer weakness in the affected shoulder so that they are unable to move their arms without difficulty. Putting on coats or jackets can be awkward and painful. Lifting the arm above the head or trying to scratch the back of the neck is very painful.

If the patient cannot lift the arm at all than the rotor cuff may be torn, which needs treatment at once.

How is Impingement Syndrome Treated?

Icing or cold therapy on the shoulder helps reduce both pain and swelling. Place cold compress, ice bag or even a bag of frozen peas for 20 minutes on the shoulder twice a day. Do not place ice directly on skin as this can cause a painful cold burn.

Over the counter NSAID painkillers like ibuprofen are often effective. Some may need to be taken with milk or food to avoid nausea. If these do not help a doctor would need to prescribe stronger painkillers. A steroid injection may help swelling and pain.

The arm needs rest and then a gradual return to daily activities. Physical therapy may be needed.

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