Understand Rotator Cuff Impingement: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

Falls and injuries may sometimes impact your shoulder. When this happens, the tendons in the rotator cuffs may get trapped or compressed between the shoulder joints and bones during movement. This leads to the development of rotator cuff impingement, also known as shoulder impingement syndrome.

The rotator cuff refers to the muscles and tendons that wrap the shoulder joints and that keep the upper arm bone firmly inside the shoulder socket. It is the part of the body which provides support to the shoulder joints and bones.

Rotator cuff impingement occurs in athletes, sportspeople, and accident victims. It is also common in people whose work involves using their shoulders and arms extensively, such as painters, swimmers, teachers and so on.

Common Signs and Symptoms

There are certain specific signs which help medical professionals identify whether or not a patient has a rotator cuff impingement. These signs include:

  • Extreme pain in the shoulders, especially when lifting the arm overhead
  • Limited movement of the arm and shoulder
  • Difficulty in performing certain arm movements
  • Weakness and tenderness of the shoulder muscles
  • Stiffness in the shoulder and inability to move the arm

Shoulder impingement syndrome can also lead to shoulder arthritis, tendinitis and a whole host of other bone and ligament related problems.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, encourage them to visit an orthopedic shoulder specialist. The doctor will first take X-rays, MRIs or arthrograms to diagnose the problem and then create a treatment plan suited to your needs.

Treatment of Rotator Cuff Impingement

Medical practitioners recommend certain treatments for patients suffering from shoulder impingement syndrome. These include:

  • Medication
    Oral anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed by doctors to provide immediate comfort. Patients are put on a course of 6-8 weeks depending on the severity of the condition. Unfortunately, there is no single medication that offers a solution to this problem. Different medications show unique results on patients and the final course is determined only after testing medication for 10-15 days.
  • Exercise
    Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises are recommended to patients. It is best to stretch while in the shower, as the warm water relaxes the muscles and tendons around the shoulder, allowing easy mobility. Other exercises such as stretching the thumb and hand behind the body are also recommended, to improve shoulder flexibility.

Physical therapy may be prescribed by sports medicine physicians for patients with severe rotator cuff impingement complications.

  • Cortisone injections

A very strong anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone is prescribed only when oral medication and exercise fail. However, cortisone injections also affect the muscles adversely. Repeated use can lead to the weakening of muscles and tendons.

  • Surgery

If the results of the scans show tears in the rotator cuff, then surgery is scheduled. A subacromial decompression surgery is performed in extremely severe cases. Here, the acromion bone is shaved, the bone spurs removed, the coracoacromial ligament is removed and rotator cuff tears repaired. As with any other surgery, care must be taken by the patient post-surgery, to ensure a successful recovery.

Visit or contact an orthopedic shoulder specialist to bring the proper care and treatment to your athletic injuries!

Skip to content