What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome?

Symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome include pain along the side of the upper arm. It is worse with reaching high up or behind. Shoulder impingement is a syndrome where your rotator cuff can be repeatedly pinched by the shoulder blade, bone spur or bone hook with certain motions. This can lead to inflammation causing bursitis or tendinitis. In many cases this can also lead to rotator cuff tears.

Shoulder Impingement symptoms can range from mild discomfort upon shoulder movement to a loss of range of motion & strength due to pain (overhead movement, reaching behind your head, reaching behind your lower back, even waving goodbye or shaking hands with someone). Tingling or numbness sensation (known as Radiculopathy) can be felt at the shoulder joint and even in the elbow and down to the fingers. This sensation can signify nerve compression of the nerves that supply the arm and fingers. Pain and numbness can also be felt during sleep or compression of the shoulder joint when leaning up against a wall or table. Shoulder Impingement can be sign of injuries such as rotatary cuff tears, SLAP lesions (labrum tears) or thorasic outlet syndrome(compression of upper arm nerves due to poor postures of the upper extremity).

Dr. Howard J. Luks, MD
Sports Medicine Specialist

The symptoms of shoulder impingement vary dramatically, individual to individual. Some patients present with very mild discomfort, predominately on the side of their shoulder. Some patients present with profound discomfort, the inability to sleep and the inability to use their arm for most of their chosen activities of daily living.

It should also be noted that the term impingement is falling out of favor in the orthopedic community, particularly the academic orthopedic community. The most common cause of shoulder pain in the active adult is rotator cuff tendinosis. It is far more descriptive than shoulder impingement.

If you have discomfort on the lateral or outer side of your shoulder, pain with trying to lift objects, reaching behind your back or reaching for something on the upper shelf of your closet or kitchen cabinet then you are likely suffering from rotator cuff disease. Of course, there are other possibilities and if you have symptoms which lasts more than a week you should see your physician or an orthopedic surgeon for x-rays and further evaluation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.