What is impingement syndrome?
Though it sounds generic, the term impingement syndrome is used in orthopedics to define a condition that results when the tendons in the shoulder’s rotator cuff become irritated and inflamed from contact with the bones of the shoulder. The rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons, keeps the top of your upper arm bone in the shoulder socket.
- Weakness, pain, and loss of movement at the affected shoulder are the most common symptoms.
- You may have difficulty reaching behind your back, and your shoulder may hurt when you are lying on it at night, or you may experience pain when you are doing an overhead movement with your arm.
- Feelings of grinding or popping may also occur.
Impingement syndrome may be the result of a major injury to the shoulder, but it is often caused by the wear and tear on, and resulting degeneration of, the tissue of the tendon. If you often engage in certain sports or have a job where you lift your arm over your head — baseball, tennis, and house painting, for example — or have an occupation such as construction, where you are lifting heavy materials, you are at risk for impingement syndrome.
“It’s important to get treatment right away for shoulder symptoms like these,” says Robert DeFalco, DO, an orthopedic physician at OINJ. “You don’t want it to get too weak or stiff, which will happen if the area continues to degenerate.”
“When you see your doctor, a physical exam will be performed. Your arm will be rotated into a number of positions, and your strength will be tested. Imaging tests like x-rays — which won’t show a tear in your tendon, but may be able to show what caused it, such as a bone spur, or show a different reason for your pain — or MRIs, which can show the whole structure, may be required,” states Paul Teja, DO, another orthopedic physician at OINJ.
“We’ll often recommend the usual: rest, ice, and physical therapy, which can help restore your strength and flexibility. Anti-inflammatories are a front-line response, as well. At OINJ, if necessary, we can also perform a variety of different surgeries for rotator cuff issues, depending on what the issue is: tendon repair, or the removal of a bone spur, or even a shoulder replacement,” adds Dr. DeFalco.