Father with child on shoulders
May 9, 2018 | by Daniel Schwartz MD

Falls and injuries may sometimes impact your shoulder. When this happens, the tendons in the rotator cuffs may be 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. This part of the body 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, and teachers.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Impingement

There are specific signs that help medical professionals identify if a patient has a rotator cuff impingement, including:

  • 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.

To diagnose this condition, an orthopedic shoulder specialist will first take X-rays, MRIs, or arthrograms to identify the problem and then create an individualized treatment plan suited to your needs.

Treatment of Rotator Cuff Impingement

Recommended treatments for patients suffering from shoulder impingement syndrome include:

  • Medication

    Oral anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed 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 to 15 days.

  • Exercise

    Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises are recommended to improve flexibility. 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 help improve shoulder flexibility. Physical therapy may be prescribed 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 may also affect the muscles adversely. Repeated use can lead to the weakening of muscles and tendons.

  • Surgery

    If the results of the diagnostic scans show tears in the rotator cuff, then surgery may be warranted. As with any other surgery, care must be taken by the patient post-surgery, to ensure a successful recovery.

Contact an orthopedic shoulder specialist for the proper care and treatment of any symptoms of rotator cuff impingement symptoms you are experiencing.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Daniel Schwartz, please contact his office at 206.860.5578.


Written By: Daniel Schwartz MD