Impingement Syndrome(Swimmer’s Shoulder)


What Is Impingement Syndrome?

Impingement syndrome, also called swimmer’s shoulder or subacromial impingement, is a common condition. It occurs when the muscles and tendons that lift the arm are injured or strained. Impingement syndrome is common to athletes who play sports that require a lot of throwing, overhead activity and swimming (as its other name suggests).

When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the shoulder blade bone and tendons narrows. The bone can rub against (or impinge on) the tendons, causing pain.

Although a sudden injury can cause impingement syndrome, it usually results from repetitive movements over time – like a swimmer repeating the same stroke. The good news is that most people are able to heal from impingement syndrome in a matter of months.

The Aurora Difference

Our Specialized Approach to Impingement Syndrome Treatment

Our orthopedists and primary care doctors will quickly diagnose your shoulder pain to determine if you have impingement syndrome, or if another condition is causing your pain. We’ll then recommend treatment options based on your health, goals and lifestyle.

Here's what makes our approach unique:

  • Emphasis on prevention: If your shoulder pain is ongoing, an Aurora doctor can help prevent impingement syndrome or keep it from worsening. We’ll show you how warming up before you exercise, losing weight (if necessary), and stretching can relieve pain and prevent injury.
  • Largest regional health care provider in Wisconsin: We see a large volume of orthopedic patients and athletes every year. This gives us a wide range of experience in accurately diagnosing and treating all types of orthopedic and sports-related conditions – including yours.
  • Seamless chain of care: We provide everything you need in a single health system. Orthopedics specialists work closely with primary care doctors, integrative (holistic) medicine providers and physical therapists to offer comprehensive treatment options and long-term relief.
  • Top-tier specialists: Our expert team includes over 70 orthopedic surgeons, many of whom are specially certified in orthopedic sports medicine.


When Should You See a Doctor for Impingement Syndrome?

Shoulder pain can disturb sleep patterns and limit your ability to exercise or function at work. If your shoulder pain begins to disrupt your regular activities, you may want to consult a doctor.

Impingement syndrome pain often comes on gradually and develops at the front and along the side of the shoulder joint. In some cases, the pain is noticeable only during movements such as throwing a ball, swimming, reaching up or playing tennis.

See your doctor if you experience any of these signs and symptoms:

  • Shoulder pain that spreads to the arm
  • Difficulty reaching behind your back
  • Pain when raising your arm
  • Swelling in the shoulder area
  • Noticeable pain at night


What Causes Impingement Syndrome?

Impingement syndrome can occur in athletes, active people and older adults. Its presence can also indicate a number of different-but-related problems, including:

  • Rotator cuff injury: A tear in the tissues that connect muscle to bone (tendons) around the shoulder joint
  • Shoulder instability: A feeling of looseness in the shoulder
  • Bone spurs: Projections that develop at the edges of bone
  • Labral injury: A tear in the cartilage
  • Disease of the tendon: Problems in the tissue that connects muscle to bone
  • Osteoarthritis: Pain that occurs when tissue at the end of the bone wears down

Eventually, impingement syndrome can lead to other injuries, so it’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and care plan.

Diagnosis & Treatment

What to Expect at Your Doctor's Appointment

Your Aurora doctor will begin with a physical examination and ask about your medical history, including any past injuries you've had. You may need to have X-rays if the doctor suspects a fracture or arthritis. If your symptoms are more serious, your doctor may perform an MRI to rule out a rotator cuff tear.

If your doctor suspects impingement syndrome, they may inject a small amount of an anesthetic and/or a corticosteroid into the space under the shoulder bone. If the anesthetic relieves the pain, the diagnosis is impingement syndrome.

Treatment for Impingement Syndrome

Most forms of treatment involve reducing pain and inflammation, recovering strength and returning to activity. Some treatment options include:

  • Rest, including avoiding certain activities
  • Application of ice to the area
  • Exercises and stretches
  • Oral anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cortisone injections to aid in pain relief

If your doctor identifies a more serious injury, you may need surgery. Learn more about shoulder surgery at Aurora.

Risk Factors

Who Is at Risk for Impingement Syndrome?

You may be more likely to experience impingement syndrome if you are an athlete who does repetitive movements, including:

  • Tennis players
  • Swimmers
  • Racquetball players
  • Baseball players
  • Golfers

Others who are likely to experience this condition include:

  • Older adults
  • People with past injuries
  • Manual laborers

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