Though a shoulder impingement can be painful and debilitating, the condition generally responds well to conservative treatments like physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication.
Shoulder impingement syndrome, which is closely related to shoulder bursitis and rotator cuff tendonitis, typically strikes athletes who perform repeated overhand motions. The condition often affects swimmers, tennis players, and baseball players, as well as people who frequently lift heavy objects for their jobs.
Continually lifting your arms above your head can irritate the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that give the shoulder joint its range of motion. The rotator cuff sits between the humerus (the arm bone) and the acromion bone, or the top of the shoulder. Performing the same overhead motions squeezes the rotator cuff tendons, which can lead to a bone spur. These bony protrusions limit the space under the acromion bone, causing pain, disrupting sleep, and producing a general feeling of weakness in the arm.
Fortunately, conservative treatment is an effective method to reverse shoulder impingement syndrome. For most people, a program of rest, pain medication, and physical therapy can eliminate pain in a matter of weeks.
Conservative Treatment Options
Diagnosing a shoulder impingement begins with a physical exam. Your orthopedic specialist may also order an X-ray and/or an MRI to detect bone spurs or rotator cuff damage. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, you’ll begin a conservative treatment plan that features a combination of rest, icing the joint for 20 minutes twice a day, pain medication, and physical therapy.
Although you should rest the shoulder and avoid activities that cause discomfort, it’s important to continue to move the joint so it doesn’t become immobile. A physical therapy program focused on strengthening and stretching the shoulder muscles can relieve pain and maintain a full range of motion.
Also helpful in reducing pain are anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections. An injection of platelet-rich plasma may be recommended, as well.
Non-surgical methods usually alleviate the discomfort of a shoulder impingement within weeks. However, if conservative treatments fail to bring relief, your orthopedist may suggest that you undergo arthroscopic surgery. During this minimally invasive procedure, the surgeon creates two small incisions through which a telescope is threaded to view the shoulder. Another instrument removes any bone spurs or inflamed bursa surrounding the rotator cuff tendons. If the rotator cuff is torn, the surgeon will repair it. This provides enough room for the rotator cuff to move freely once again.
After your procedure, you’ll wear a sling for a few days and participate in physical therapy. Six to eight weeks after surgery you should achieve a complete recovery. Yet surgery is rarely considered as a treatment for shoulder impingement syndrome because the condition typically responds well to conservative options.
Meet With a Shoulder Specialist
At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, our guiding philosophy is to pursue conservative treatment options before surgery. In the vast majority of cases, rest, medication, and a customized physical therapy program will heal your shoulder impingement. Contact our office today for an appointment so we can examine your shoulder and get you on the road to recovery.