Shoulder impingement, often referred to as swimmer’s shoulder, is caused when the tendons become trapped as they pass through the narrow bony channel. This little tunnel in the shoulder normally allows those tendons to slide back and forth with no restriction as you move your arm, however, repetitive use of the shoulder, more specifically repetitive overhead movement can cause that tunnel to narrow, putting pressure on the tendons.
There are two main reasons this impingement can happen: the tunnel narrows due to tightness of surrounding muscles pushing the structures closer together, or it becomes damaged in some way leading to inflammation and swelling, making the tendon a bit larger, and therefore harder to fit within the space.
Symptoms usually include pain with overhead use of the arm, such as reaching into upper cabinets or brushing your hair, as well as weakness of the shoulder muscles, making it difficult to raise your arm. While shoulder impingement itself may seem like a relatively small issue if your symptoms are minor, the continued inflammation in the area can lead to further damage and other shoulder injuries.
If you’re experiencing this kind of pain and restriction, it’s important to get a check-up with your doctor, and depending on their specific training, potentially a referral to an orthopaedic specialist. Either may order an x-ray to rule out arthritis, bone spurs, and other issues, as well as look at the health of the bone and joint.
The most common treatment for shoulder impingement includes ant-inflammatory medications as well as physical therapy and massage therapy to decrease the inflammation and open the space, allowing the tendon to move more freely. Massage can loosen the restrictions within the shoulder and exercises and stretches at home will help to re-educate your muscles to keep that space open, as it should be.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or have been diagnosed with shoulder impingement, it’s important to take it easy. Let your shoulder rest and heal, and alter your exercise and activities to limit those overhead movements but don’t forget to book a massage too, as you will need that work on your shoulder, neck, and back to help you heal and keep you feeling great.