How does physical therapy help shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement syndrome occurs as a result of chronic, repeated compression of the rotator cuff tendons, ligaments, or bursa in the shoulder. This compression leads to pain and movement limitations. Manual laborers, athletes (such as weightlifters, volleyball players, or baseball pitchers), and those with poor posture are at higher risk for developing shoulder impingement. If left untreated, it can progress to more serious conditions like a rotator cuff tearPhysical therapists play a crucial role in managing shoulder impingement by reducing pain, improving shoulder motion, and enhancing strength. 

What is shoulder impingement syndrome?

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a painful condition that occurs when the tendons and muscles of the rotator cuff, which helps to move and stabilize the shoulder joint, become compressed or irritated as they pass through a narrow space beneath the acromion, a bony prominence on the shoulder blade.

This compression can cause pain, inflammation, and weakness in the shoulder, making it difficult to lift your arm or reach overhead.

Shoulder impingement Causes:

Several things can cause shoulder impingement syndrome, including:

  • Repetitive overhead activities: This is the most common cause of shoulder impingement syndrome. Activities that put stress on the shoulder, such as throwing, swimming, weightlifting, and painting, can irritate the rotator cuff tendons and lead to impingement.
  • Poor posture: Slouching can cause the shoulder to hunch forward, which can narrow the space between the acromion and the rotator cuff tendons, leading to impingement.
  • Bone spurs: A bone spur is a small, bony growth that can develop on the underside of the acromion and impinge on the rotator cuff tendons.
  • Acromial arch abnormalities: Some people have a naturally curved acromion, which can narrow the space for the rotator cuff tendons and lead to impingement.

Shoulder impingement Symptoms:

The most common symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome include:

  • Pain in the front of the shoulder, especially when lifting your arm or reaching overhead
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping on the affected shoulder
  • A catching or grinding sensation in the shoulder
  • Clicking or popping sound in the shoulder

What does physical therapy do for shoulder pain?

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing shoulder pain by addressing the underlying causes, improving mobility, and enhancing strength. Here’s how it helps:

  1. Assessment and Diagnosis: A physical therapist evaluates your shoulder pain, identifies any structural issues, and determines the root cause.
  2. Pain Reduction: Through targeted exercises, manual techniques, and modalities (such as heat or ice), physical therapists alleviate pain and inflammation.
  3. Range of Motion Improvement: They guide you through specific stretches and movements to enhance shoulder flexibility and prevent stiffness.
  4. Strengthening Exercises: Customized exercises strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint, providing stability and support.
  5. Posture Correction: Physical therapists address poor posture habits that contribute to shoulder discomfort.
  6. Functional Training: They teach you how to perform daily activities (lifting, reaching, etc.) without exacerbating pain.
  7. Education: You’ll learn self-management techniques, proper body mechanics, and strategies to prevent future shoulder issues.

Remember, consistency and adherence to the prescribed exercises are essential for successful shoulder pain management. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, consider consulting a physical therapist for personalized guidance.

Physical therapy heal the rotator cuff

What is the most effective treatment for shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement can cause significant discomfort, but effective treatments are available. Let’s explore the options:

1.      Rest and Home Care:

  • Rest: Avoid strenuous activities that worsen the pain.
  • Ice: Apply ice to the shoulder for 20 minutes twice a day.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation.

2.      Physical Therapy:

  • Key Treatment: Physical therapy is crucial for shoulder impingement.
  • Range of Motion Exercises: Improve shoulder flexibility and prevent stiffness.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint.
  • Posture Correction: Address poor posture habits.
  • Functional Training: Learn how to perform daily activities without aggravating pain.

3.      Medications:

  • NSAIDs: These help manage pain and inflammation.

4.      Corticosteroid Injections:

  • Inflammation Reduction: Injections can provide short-term relief.

5.      Surgery (In Severe Cases):

  • Arthroscopic Surgery: Used to remove bone spurs or repair damaged tendons.
  • Subacromial Decompression: Widens the space between the rotator cuff and acromion.

Remember, the most effective treatment depends on the severity of your condition. Consult a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for your specific case.

What are the physical therapy tests for shoulder impingement?

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a common condition that causes pain and limited mobility in the shoulder. Physical therapists use specific tests to assess and diagnose shoulder impingement. Here are some key tests:

1.      Hawkins-Kennedy Test:

  • Purpose: To assess for impingement of the supraspinatus tendon.
  • Procedure: The therapist flexes the patient’s shoulder to 90 degrees and then forcibly internally rotates the arm.
  • Positive Test: Pain or discomfort indicates a positive result.

2.      Neer Test:

  • Purpose: To evaluate subacromial impingement.
  • Procedure: The therapist passively elevates the patient’s arm while stabilizing the scapula.
  • Positive Test: Pain during elevation suggests subacromial impingement.

3.      Empty Can Test (Jobe Test):

  • Purpose: To assess the supraspinatus muscle.
  • Procedure: The patient abducts the arm to 90 degrees with the thumbs pointing downward (like pouring from an empty can).
  • Positive Test: Pain or weakness indicates supraspinatus involvement.

4.      External Rotation Lag Sign (ERLS):

  • Purpose: To detect infraspinatus or teres minor tears.
  • Procedure: The patient’s arm is abducted and externally rotated, and then the therapist releases the arm.
  • Positive Test: Inability to maintain external rotation suggests a tear.

5.      Lift-Off Test (Gerber’s Test):

  • Purpose: To assess subscapularis function.
  • Procedure: The patient places the dorsum of the hand against the lower back and lifts the hand away from the back.
  • Positive Test: Difficulty lifting the hand indicates subscapularis dysfunction.

6.      Belly Press Test:

  • Purpose: To evaluate subscapularis strength.
  • Procedure: The patient presses the palm against the abdomen.
  • Positive Test: Weakness or pain during the movement suggests subscapularis involvement.

7.      Cross-Over Impingement Test:

  • Purpose: To assess AC joint or rotator cuff pathology.
  • Procedure: The patient horizontally adducts the arm across the body.
  • Positive Test: Pain over the AC joint or rotator cuff area indicates pathology.

Remember, a comprehensive assessment by a skilled physical therapist is essential for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment. If you suspect shoulder impingement, seek professional evaluation and guidance.

How many physical therapy sessions for shoulder impingement?

The number of physical therapy sessions required for shoulder impingement varies based on individual factors such as the severity of the condition, overall health, and response to treatment. However, a typical course of physical therapy for shoulder impingement may involve 6 to 12 sessions over several weeks.

During these sessions, a skilled physical therapist will focus on:

  1. Pain Reduction: Addressing acute pain and inflammation.
  2. Range of Motion Improvement: Restoring shoulder flexibility.
  3. Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles.
  4. Posture Correction: Addressing poor posture habits.
  5. Functional Training: Teaching proper movement mechanics for daily activities.


Shoulder impingement is when you feel pain in your shoulder due to repeated pressure on certain parts inside it. This can happen if you do physical work, play sports, or have poor posture. If not treated, it can lead to more serious issues. Physical therapists are experts who help manage this pain. They do this by teaching exercises, improving your shoulder movement, and making your muscles stronger. So, if your shoulder hurts, consider seeing a physical therapist—they’ll guide you to feel better and prevent future problems! 💪🏼

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I am a highly skilled and experienced content writer with a Doctorate in Therapy degree. With a deep understanding of the human body and a passion for health and wellness. I combines my clinical expertise and writing skills to create valuable and engaging content.

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