The Truth About Shoulder Impingement


     Shoulder impingement (Subacromial Impingement Syndrome) is a condition of the shoulder that results in pain felt at the front of the shoulder, under a bone called the acromion process, that is often worse with repetitive or frequent overhead activity. Shoulder “impingement” was first introduced in the 1970’s by an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Charles Neer, however, we have learned a great deal about this condition since that time.

     Traditionally, this condition was thought to occur due to abnormal shoulder mechanics that resulted in some of the soft tissues (rotator cuff or biceps tendons, subdeltoid bursa etc) being pinched or “impinged” between two bones in the shoulder. This pinching was thought to irritate and damage the soft tissues of the shoulder, leading to shoulder pain.

     However, recent studies have shown that there is ALWAYS pinching or “impingement” of those soft tissue structures any time we raise our arms above 30 degrees, and this happens in everybody, whether or not you have shoulder pain! This impingement is actually completely normal, and is something that is unavoidable if we want to raise our arms to any degree. Because of this, the notion of impingement being the cause of shoulder pain has been relatively disproven. Instead, it is now suggested that this type of shoulder pain is an overuse injury in which the muscles and tendons in that area are being overworked, and aren’t capable of keeping up with the demands that we place on them. Because of this, “shoulder impingement” is now called Subacromial Pain Syndrome.

     The most common way to treat this type of shoulder pain is through strengthening the muscles of the rotator cuff and those that control the scapula (shoulder blade). Strengthening these muscles allows those tissues to properly deal with the stress that we place on them with our day-to-day activities, and will help eliminate your pain!

     Check back next week for some of our go-to exercises when treating shoulder pain!

    If you are currently experiencing shoulder pain that is stopping you from doing what you love, call one of our offices to talk to one of our expert Physical Therapists and find out how Physical Therapy could help you get out of pain without relying on medication or surgery!

Waterford office: 860-444-8713

Mystic office: 860-536-1699

Niantic office: 860-691-8960


Neer CS. Anterior acromioplasty for the chronic impingement syndrome in the shoulder: a preliminary report. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. American volume. 1972; 54(1):41-50

Diercks et al. Guideline for diagnosis and treatment of subacromial pain syndrome: a multidisciplinary review by the Dutch Orthopaedic Association. Acta Orthop. 2014 Jun;85(3):314-22. doi: 10.3109/17453674.2014.920991. Epub 2014 May 21.