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What is 'shoulder impingement syndrome'?

The "Rotator Cuff" describes a group of four muscles that hold your shoulder in its socket while your larger muscles move your arm. Your rotator cuff tendon lives in an area of your shoulder called the "subacromial space". Sometimes this space can become crowded by abnormally shaped bones, arthritis, spurs, or even lazy muscles that fail to keep the bones separated properly. This overcrowding may create a painful pinching of the rotator cuff tendon and or bursa when you raise your arm. This condition is called "Shoulder Anterior Impingement Syndrome", or simply "Impingement". Long-standing impingement leads to rotator cuff tears in much the same way that a rope is damaged by repeatedly being struck by a dull stone.

Impingement is the most common shoulder disorder and accounts for about half of all shoulder complaints seen by physicians. Those who perform repetitive overhead activity are at greater risk for impingement. This includes athletes who participate in: swimming, baseball, volleyball, weightlifting, and tennis as well as jobs like carpenters, electricians, painters, and wall paper hangers.

Impingement often starts after a period of overuse. Initially, your symptoms may be limited to sharp pain during overhead activity or while reaching behind the back to fasten a bra or close a zipper. As your condition progresses, you may develop a constant ache that is present even at rest. Nighttime pain is common, often disrupting sleep. Impingement is a disorder that, if left untreated, will progress through 3 stages and eventually lead to rotator cuff tearing and surgery.

Your successful treatment will focus on restoring your range of motion while avoiding aggravating movements i.e. reaching overhead and behind your back. If you work out at the gym, you should especially avoid overhead presses, lateral raises, and push-ups. Avoid sleeping on the "bad" shoulder, especially if this causes pain. You may benefit from sleeping on your "good" side and placing a pillow between your side and your "bad" arm.

Check out the quick video below of Dr. Bruner (with Geaux Chiro Hammond) to learn a little more about what to do to improve shoulder impingement!

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