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Shoulder Impingement: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


Shoulder impingement, known more commonly as swimmer’s shoulder, is a condition that develops as a result of overuse. At Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, Dr. Joseph typically treats this injury in athletes who use their shoulders or in people whose jobs require repetitive overhead motions.


What Causes Impingement in the Shoulder?

Shoulder impingement is not uncommon. In fact, 44-65% of all reported shoulder pain is thought to be caused by impingement. At his practice, Dr. Joseph has found this condition is usually the result of one of the following:

  • Overuse of the shoulder

  • Repetitve shoulder movements

  • A fall or direct impact to the shoulder

  • Normal wear-and-tear of the rotator cuff

  • A sports injury

  • Deformity in the shoulder (ie: bone spurs)

Shoulder impingement is caused when the top outer section of the shoulder blade becomes pinched or chafes against the rotator cuff. A rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that assist your arm’s rotating and raising movements. When these tendons become inflamed or swollen, the rotator cuff can rub against or catch in the shoulder blade.


Symptoms of shoulder impingement include:

  • Pain when extending, lowering, or lifting your arm

  • Pain when reaching behind the back

  • Pain and tenderness in the front of the shoulder

  • Weakness in the shoulder

Oftentimes, these symptoms will start slowly and then worse with time. Since these shoulder symptoms are similar to those caused by shoulder tendonitis and bursitis, it’s essential to have your shoulder pain diagnosed by an orthopedic shoulder expert.


Do I Need Surgery for Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder?

Fortunately, the majority of patients can recover from shoulder impingement without surgery. Dr. Joseph often recommends the following conservative treatment methods:

  • Ice

  • Rest

  • Activity modification

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Physical therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Steroid injections

Recovering from shoulder impingement can take several weeks to a few months. If the shoulder impingement has advanced to the point where it has torn the rotator cuff, damaged the shoulder cartilage, or is the result of a bone spur, Dr. Joseph may recommend surgical intervention.


Surgery to repair a shoulder impingement involved creating more room for the compressed soft tissues and removing any damaged bone, cartilage, and tissue. Sometimes this is performed in addition to a rotator cuff repair, especially if tendons have ruptured completely.


Most of these surgeries can be performed arthroscopically. Typically recovery time for shoulder impingement surgery is two to four months.


Shoulder Pain? Contact Dr. Joseph Today!


If you have been diagnosed with shoulder impingement or are just suffering from shoulder pain, contact Dr. Joseph and his team at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery. Dedicated to getting patients back to the activities they love, Dr. Joseph will work with you to design a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle.


Schedule your appointment today by calling (970) 476-7220 or complete Dr. Joseph’s online contact form. Urgent care appointments available!


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