Physical Therapy for Shoulder Impingement: Regain Your Range of Motion

physical therapy for shoulder impingement

Welcome to a journey of healing and renewed mobility. In this blog, we’ll explore the transformative world of physical therapy for shoulder impingement, offering you insights and strategies to conquer discomfort and regain strength. Let’s embark on a path to pain relief and recovery.

What is Shoulder Impingement?

What is Shoulder ImpingementShoulder impingement, often referred to as subacromial impingement syndrome, is a common orthopedic condition that affects the shoulder joint. This condition occurs when the tendons and soft tissues surrounding the shoulder become compressed or irritated, leading to pain, reduced range of motion, and discomfort in the affected shoulder. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for shoulder impingement is crucial, so that you can  manage this condition effectively.

Shoulder impingement typically develops due to repetitive overhead arm movements or chronic wear and tear. Athletes, especially those involved in sports like swimming, tennis, or baseball, are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Over time, the tendons in the shoulder can become inflamed or damaged, narrowing the space within the shoulder joint where these tendons pass, known as the subacromial space. This narrowing can result in the tendons becoming pinched or “impinged” during shoulder movements.

Understanding the Causes of Shoulder Impingement

Let’s break down the causes of shoulder impingement so that you can get a clear understanding of its reasons:

  • Repetitive Overhead Movements: Engaging in activities that require repetitive overhead arm movements, such as swimming, tennis, or weightlifting, can lead to shoulder impingement over time.
  • Chronic Wear and Tear: Gradual wear and tear on the tendons and soft tissues surrounding the shoulder joint can contribute to the narrowing of the subacromial space, increasing the risk of impingement.
  • Muscle Imbalances: Muscle imbalances around the shoulder, particularly in the rotator cuff muscles, can alter the normal mechanics of the shoulder joint, potentially leading to impingement.
  • Poor Posture: Maintaining poor posture, such as rounded shoulders or forward head posture, can impact the alignment of the shoulder joint and contribute to impingement.
  • Anatomical Factors: Certain anatomical variations, such as a hooked acromion (the bony prominence at the top of the shoulder blade), can predispose individuals to shoulder impingement.
  • Previous Injuries: Prior shoulder injuries, including dislocations or fractures, may increase the likelihood of developing impingement in the future.
  • Aging: As individuals age, the tendons and soft tissues in the shoulder may naturally degenerate and become less flexible, making them more susceptible to impingement.
  • Inflammatory Conditions: Inflammatory conditions like bursitis or tendinitis can cause swelling and irritation in the shoulder joint, contributing to impingement.
  • Poor Biomechanics: Faulty movement patterns or biomechanics during sports or daily activities can place excessive stress on the shoulder joint, potentially leading to impingement.

Understanding these causes can help individuals recognize potential risk factors and take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing shoulder impingement. Additionally, addressing these factors can be an essential part of treatment and rehabilitation for those already experiencing impingement-related symptoms.

When You Should Seek Medical Care?

When you should seek treatmentKnowing when to seek medical care for shoulder impingement is crucial to prevent further complications and promote timely recovery. Here are key indicators that should prompt you to consult a healthcare professional:

  • Persistent Pain: If your shoulder pain persists for more than a few days, especially if it worsens or affects your daily activities, seek medical attention. Chronic pain may indicate underlying issues that require diagnosis and treatment.
  • Limited Range of Motion: When you notice a significant reduction in your shoulder’s range of motion, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks like reaching overhead or behind your back, it’s time to see a doctor. This limitation could be due to impingement.
  • Radiating Pain: If your shoulder pain radiates down your arm or is accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arm or hand, it may suggest nerve involvement. A healthcare provider can evaluate and address these symptoms.
  • Night Pain: Pain that worsens at night or interferes with your sleep is a concerning symptom. It may indicate a more advanced stage of impingement or other shoulder issues, requiring professional assessment.
  • Trauma or Injury: If you’ve experienced a recent shoulder injury, such as a fall or impact, or suspect you might have dislocated your shoulder, seek immediate medical attention. Trauma can lead to impingement or other complications.
  • Failed Self-Care: If self-care measures, such as rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications, do not provide relief within a reasonable timeframe, consult a healthcare provider. It’s important not to delay appropriate treatment.
  • Recurrent Symptoms: If you’ve had shoulder impingement in the past and are experiencing a recurrence of similar symptoms, it’s advisable to seek medical care. Recurrent impingement may indicate underlying structural issues that need attention.
  • Progressive Weakness: If you notice a gradual weakening of the affected arm or shoulder, making it difficult to perform routine tasks or lift objects, consult a healthcare professional for an evaluation.
  • Systemic Symptoms: Rarely, shoulder impingement may be associated with systemic conditions like infections or autoimmune disorders. If you experience systemic symptoms like fever, chills, or unexplained weight loss alongside shoulder pain, seek medical care promptly.
  • Concerns About the Severity: If you’re uncertain about the severity of your shoulder condition or have concerns about your symptoms, it’s always wise to consult a healthcare provider. Early diagnosis and treatment can often lead to more successful outcomes and faster recovery.

Remember that timely medical evaluation and appropriate treatment can help alleviate shoulder impingement symptoms, prevent further damage, and improve your overall shoulder health.

Treatment for Shoulder Impingement

Treatment for Shoulder Impingement

Effective treatment for shoulder impingement aims to alleviate pain, restore shoulder function, and prevent further complications. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition and its underlying causes. Here are several treatment options healthcare professionals may recommend:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: In mild cases of shoulder impingement, simply resting the affected shoulder and avoiding activities that worsen the symptoms can be sufficient. This approach allows the inflamed tissues to heal.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is often a cornerstone of treatment. A physical therapist can design a customized exercise program to improve shoulder strength and flexibility. These exercises may include stretches, range-of-motion exercises, and strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff and shoulder muscles.
  • Pain Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with shoulder impingement. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger medications or recommend topical treatments.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: Corticosteroid injections are sometimes administered directly into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation and pain. While these injections can provide temporary relief, they are typically limited to a certain number of treatments due to potential side effects.
  • Activity Modification: Adjusting your daily activities and work habits to minimize overhead reaching and lifting can relieve stress on the shoulder joint and aid in recovery.
  • Ice and Heat Therapy: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation, especially during the acute phase. Heat therapy, on the other hand, can relax muscles and improve blood flow, promoting healing during the later stages.
  • Ultrasound Therapy: Some physical therapists use ultrasound to improve blood circulation and promote healing in the affected shoulder.
  • Home Exercise Program: Your physical therapist may prescribe specific exercises for you to perform at home to complement in-office sessions.
  • Manual Therapy: In some cases, manual techniques performed by a physical therapist, such as joint mobilization or soft tissue massage, can help improve shoulder mobility and reduce pain.
  • Surgical Intervention: When conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgical intervention may be considered. The type of surgery depends on the specific impingement issue and may involve removing bone spurs, repairing torn tendons, or addressing other structural problems.
  • Rehabilitation: Following surgery, rehabilitation is crucial for a successful recovery. Physical therapy is typically an essential component of post-surgical rehabilitation, helping you regain strength and mobility.

It’s important to consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific condition. Early intervention and adherence to recommended treatments can lead to better outcomes and a faster return to pain-free shoulder function.

Exercises To Relieve Pain

Exercises play a pivotal role in relieving and preventing shoulder impingement pain. These exercises aim to strengthen the shoulder muscles, improve flexibility, while enhancing overall joint stability. Here are some effective exercises that can help alleviate pain associated with shoulder impingement:

Pendulum Exercise

    • Stand next to a table or chair for support.
    • Bend at the waist, letting your affected arm hang freely.
    • Gently sway your body back and forth, allowing your arm to move in a circular motion.
    • Perform this exercise for about 5 minutes to help relax the shoulder muscles.

Doorway Stretch

Doorway Stretch

    • Stand in a doorway with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and your forearm resting against the door frame.
    • Lean forward slightly, feeling a gentle stretch across the front of your shoulder.
    • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, and repeat 2-4 times.

Wall Angels

    • Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Raise your arms to shoulder level with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, forming a “goalpost” position.
    • Slowly slide your arms up the wall, maintaining contact with the wall, until your arms are fully extended overhead.
    • Return to the starting position, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Isometric Shoulder Strengthening

    • Sit or stand with your back straight.
    • Press your palm against a wall or a sturdy surface at waist height.
    • Hold this position for 10 seconds, then relax.
    • Repeat this isometric contraction 10-15 times for each shoulder.

Scapular Squeezes

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

    • Sit or stand with your arms by your sides.
    • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if trying to hold a pencil between them.
    • Hold the squeeze for 5 seconds, then relax.
    • Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions.

External Rotation with Resistance Band

    • Attach a resistance band to a doorknob or other fixed point at waist height.
    • Hold the other end of the band with your affected hand, elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
    • Keeping your elbow close to your side, rotate your forearm outward.
    • Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Rotator Cuff Strengthening

Should I exercise my rotator cuff if it hurts?

    • Use a resistance band or light dumbbell (1-2 pounds) for this exercise.
    • Keep your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, forearm parallel to the floor.
    • Rotate your forearm outward against the resistance, then return to the starting position.
    • Perform 10-15 repetitions for each arm.

Remember to start with light resistance and gradually increase as your shoulder strength improves. It’s essential to perform these exercises with proper form and under the guidance of a physical therapist, especially if you’ve had shoulder impingement or related issues. In other words, consistency and patience are key to achieving pain relief and restoring shoulder function. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or concerns.

Physical Therapy for Shoulder Impingement

  • Initial Assessment: When you begin physical therapy for shoulder impingement, your therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your shoulder’s range of motion, strength, and any specific areas of pain or discomfort. Further, this assessment helps them create a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs.
  • Pain Management: Managing pain is a primary focus of physical therapy. Therefore, various techniques may be used, including ice or heat therapy, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation. These modalities help reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area.
  • Range of Motion Exercises: Physical therapists will guide you through a series of gentle range of motion exercises to help improve shoulder mobility. As these exercises aim to restore the full movement of the shoulder joint without causing further discomfort.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder is crucial for long-term pain relief and preventing future impingement. Exercises often target the rotator cuff muscles, deltoids, and scapular stabilizers. For instance, resistance band exercises and light dumbbell exercises.
  • Stretching Exercises: Stretching exercises help increase flexibility and alleviate tension in the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.
  • Posture Correction: Poor posture can contribute to shoulder impingement. Your therapist will provide guidance on maintaining proper posture, both during everyday activities and while exercising, to minimize stress on the shoulder.
  • Manual Techniques: Hands-on manual therapy techniques may be used to mobilize the shoulder joint, reduce muscle tightness, while improving tissue flexibility. These techniques can include joint mobilization, soft tissue massage, and myofascial release.
  • Education and Lifestyle Modifications: Your physical therapist will educate you about shoulder impingement, its causes, and strategies to prevent its recurrence. This may involve ergonomic adjustments at work or home and guidance on daily activities to protect your shoulder.
  • Home Exercise Program: To maximize the benefits of physical therapy, you’ll receive a customized home exercise program. Consistency in performing these exercises is essential for long-term recovery.
  • Progress Tracking: Throughout your physical therapy sessions, your therapist will continuously assess your progress. So, adjustments to your treatment plan may be made based on how you respond to therapy.
  • Return to Function: The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to restore your ability to perform daily activities and return to your regular physical activities, including sports or hobbies.

It’s crucial to attend all recommended physical therapy sessions and adhere to the prescribed exercises and lifestyle modifications. By actively participating in your treatment, you can expect significant improvements in shoulder function, reduced pain, and an increased quality of life. Physical therapy offers a non-surgical and conservative approach to managing shoulder impingement, so it can be highly effective in many cases. Always consult with a healthcare provider or orthopedic specialist to determine if physical therapy is appropriate for your specific condition.


Shoulder impingement is a prevalent shoulder condition that can cause persistent pain and functional limitations. While it can significantly impact one’s daily life and activities, timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, including physical therapy, can help individuals manage the condition effectively and also regain optimal shoulder function. If you suspect you have shoulder impingement, seeking medical attention and guidance from a qualified healthcare professional is crucial to ensure proper evaluation and tailored treatment options

If you’re experiencing Shoulder pain, physical therapy for shoulder pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.