Talking About Sports Injuries and Orthopedic Care Practices

3 Things Athletes Need To Know About Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome, also known as shoulder tendinitis or swimmer's shoulder, is a painful sports injury. Here are three things athletes need to know about it.

What causes this injury?

This injury is a repetitive stress injury, meaning that it develops over time in response to repetitive motions. Repetitive overhead motions are associated with this injury, so things like swimming the butterfly stroke or hitting an overhead smash during tennis may be responsible.

These repetitive motion pinch your rotator cuff, a group of muscles that control your shoulders, in between your humerus (upper arm bone) and scapula (shoulder blade). This pinching compresses the tendons within your rotator cuff, leading to inflammation and pain.

What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome?

If you experience shoulder impingement syndrome, you will feel pain around your shoulders, especially during activity. Sufferers tend to describe this pain as a dull ache. You may also experience other symptoms in your shoulders, like swelling or tenderness. If you notice these symptoms, stop participating in sports and see a sports medicine doctor.

What treatment options are available?

There are many treatments available for shoulder impingement syndrome. Like other sports injuries, the RICE method is helpful. You will need to rest your shoulder to allow it to heal, so avoid playing sports until you're feeling better. Regular icing of the sore area can also help to reduce pain and inflammation.

Once your pain has decreased, you will need to undergo physical therapy to get your shoulder back to normal. Your physiotherapist will provide you with a supervised exercise program, with the goal of restoring range of motion and strength to your rotator cuff. Your physiotherapist can also show you how to modify the movement that caused the injury so that it doesn't happen again. For example, you may be shown a different, safer method of doing the butterfly stroke.

If you're not back to normal after six months of conservative treatment, you may need to have surgery. During this procedure, a surgeon will repair any tears or looseness in the area that are preventing you from healing properly. This procedure is a last resort as athletes who undergo surgery tend to lose flexibility in their shoulders, so it may be hard for you to resume playing sports at a professional level.

If you think you have shoulder impingement syndrome, seek treatment right away. A sports medicine doctor can help you get back to the sports you love with physiotherapy.