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I experience a constant ache in my shoulder, with pain radiating down the side of my arm. Whenever I reach overhead, the pain is worse. The doctor says I have “impingement”. What does this mean? What can I do?


The shoulder is complex. There are three bones that make the shoulder: scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collarbone), and humerus (long arm bone). The rotator cuff is the group of four muscles that connect the scapula and the humerus. Impingement syndrome occurs when the rotator cuff tendons rub against the top of the shoulder, at the acromion of the scapula, when you raise your arm. Working with your arms overhead and repetitive activities can cause too much rubbing and result in irritation of the rotator cuff tendons. Resting the shoulder, avoiding overhead and repetitive activities, and managing the pain with ice and anti-inflammatory medications can initially help. Physical therapy can help to stretch and restore motion to the shoulder joint. It is also important to strengthen the rotator cuff and muscles around the shoulder blade to improve the function of the joint, allowing the humerus to move without being pinched at the acromion. If symptoms don’t resolve, surgical intervention may be indicated.
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