• Chris Purcell

Shoulder impingement syndrome – a broad term for a range of different problems

  • Have you got shoulder pain and your gym buddies or personal trainer has told you it is just “Shoulder impingement” and all you need to do is use a trigger ball on the back of your shoulder to fix it?

  • Perhaps you get pain in your shoulder after a tough week of work that goes away with rest over the weekend only to have it come back again?

  • Do you have pain at night when laying on your side?

  • Do you have pain in your shoulder, but you cannot recall ever injuring the shoulder?

All of these are common features we see here in the clinic when patients have shoulder pain. This type of pain is often referred to as “shoulder impingement” but the problem with using the term impingement is that it is more a of descriptive term rather than a diagnosis and without proper management your shoulder pain can progress from pain that comes and goes to something a lot more serious.


Causes of shoulder impingement can range from the shape of your acromion to the posture you have in your upper back. A recent research article has confirmed a correlation between thoracic kyphosis and a lack of extension of the upper back and shoulder impingement syndrome (Hunter et.al, 2019). This is certainly something we have seen a lot more of in recent times due to the work from home evolution and a decline in ergonomics. Shoulder impingement can also involve the rotator cuff tendons and other structures such as the bursa. In a lot of cases it is not simply one thing that is causing your pain so a good physical assessment from our team of physiotherapists is required.


Shoulder impingement is often a problem when repetitive overhead movements are involved (such as at the gym, some occupations and some sports).


Shoulder impingement is common, and for some people it can become very recurrent. Using a combination of history and symptom taking in combination with physical assessment techniques your physiotherapist should be able to determine where you shoulder pain is coming from. In some cases medical imaging is needed to determine the exact cause and extent of the impingement and any damage this may have caused (particularly if it has been going on for some time). In many cases, with some hands on treatment, exercises and good advice on things to avoid or limit your shoulder impingement pain can be settled without injections or other invasive procedures.


So if you are suffering from shoulder pain that is not going away or keeps coming back we can help get it sorted for you. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about your shoulder pain, we would be only too happy to help.


Hunter DJ, Rivett DA, McKiernan S, Smith L, Snodgrass SJ. Relationship between shoulder impingement syndrome and thoracic posture. Phys Ther. 2020;100:677–686.]

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