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Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement is a common condition that causes shoulder pain, in which a tendon in your shoulder rubs or catches on a nearby bone.


What is shoulder impingement?

Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach your upper arm bone to your shoulder. The rotator cuff sits under the top of the shoulder (the acromion).

If you have shoulder impingement, your rotator cuff rubs against your acromion. When you lift your arm, the space between your acromion and rotator cuff decreases, which increases pressure. This increased pressure leads to shoulder impingement, as the pressure aggravates the rotator cuff.

What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement?

The key symptom is a sharp pain in your shoulder when you lift your arm back or overhead. Other symptoms include:

  • weakness in your shoulder or arm
  • small, but continuous, pain in your arm
  • problems reaching up behind your back
  • pain that increases when you lift your arm and at night

What causes shoulder impingement?

Anyone can get shoulder impingement, but some people are more likely to than others.

Common risk factors and causes of shoulder impingement include:

  • Shoulder overuse – through playing certain sports that require a lot of arm and shoulder activity – such as tennis, swimming and football
  • Being over 50 – you’re more likely to develop shoulder impingement as you get older
  • Those with previous shoulder injuries or shoulder instability
  • Your anatomy – if you have a hooked acromion or prominent coracoid, you’re more likely to experience shoulder impingement
  • Having bad posture – slumped or hunched shoulders can decrease the space between your acromion and rotator cuff

How is shoulder impingement diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, including details of any prior injuries, alongside information about the exercise you do. They will ask you to move your shoulder in certain ways while they look for any problems in movement.

In some instances, your doctor may take an x-ray or MRI scan to try to get a better idea of whether you have a shoulder impingement or another potential condition.

How is shoulder impingment treated?

For mild shoulder impingement, ice therapy (applying ice to the shoulder once or twice a day, for 10-15 minutes), physical therapy and over-the-counter medications – such as ibuprofen or naproxen – can all help. Physical therapy usually means you meet with a physical therapist once to learn some gentle movement exercises, but then can continue with the exercises on your own at home to ease your shoulder pain.

You may need a stronger prescription for more severe cases of shoulder impingement or a cortisone injection.

In some rare, severe cases it’s possible you develop a rotator cuff injury and you will need surgery.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Peter Reilly  ›

Mr. Reilly’s main area of clinical practice is shoulder and elbow surgery, with research interests complementing this including rotator cuff disease, proximal humeral fractures and arthroplasty.

Find your specialist in shoulder impingement at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have shoulder impingement and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading shoulder specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Ms Susan Alexander  ›
Special interests include:
Shoulder surgery (+ 2) more
Mr Toby Baring  ›
Special interests include:
Shoulder surgery (+ 5) more
Mr David Butt  ›
Special interests include:
Sports injuries (+ 4) more
Mr Peter Reilly  ›
Special interests include:
Shoulder surgery (+ 1) more
Mr Andrew Sankey  ›
Special interests include:
Frozen shoulder (+ 15) more
Mr Andrew Wallace  ›
Special interests include:
Sports injuries (+ 4) more
Mr James White  ›
Special interests include:
Shoulder surgery (+ 5) more

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