Shoulder impingement

What is shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement happens when the top of your shoulder blade rubs against or squeezes the soft tissues underneath it when you lift your arm. This causes irritation or swelling in the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons that cover your shoulder joint.

If you don’t have shoulder impingement treated, it can lead to tendinitis or even a tear of the rotator cuff.


Symptoms of shoulder impingement begin with discomfort in your shoulder and upper arm. Over time, the pain gets worse. Sleeping on the shoulder may become uncomfortable. The pain may eventually spread down as far as your forearm.

Causes and risk factors

Your shoulder is one of the most moveable and unstable joints in your body, so the risk of injuring it is higher. Causes of shoulder impingement include:

  • Overuse during work that requires moving your arms over your head
  • Sports activities with overhead actions, such as baseball and tennis
  • Aging, as soft tissues break down and weaken over time

Treatment options

Treatment of shoulder impingement may include:

  • Rest, ice packs, and anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain and swelling
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Ultrasound treatments to encourage blood flow to the injury

If these treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend steroid injections or surgery.

Last reviewed: 
January 2018

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