Giving the Cold Shoulder? How Physiotherapy Can Help Treat Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Posted on: 12 February 2018

Living with any condition that causes chronic pain can be a decidedly uncomfortable and stressful endeavour, but when this pain is accompanies by a loss of mobility your quality of life can be seriously affected. Shoulder impingement syndrome is one condition which can combine these distinctly unpleasant symptoms, and anybody who suffers from its symptoms for more than a few weeks should seek physiotherapy and other treatments at their earliest convenience.

What is shoulder impingement syndrome?

Shoulder impingement syndrome, often referred to as swimmer's or thrower's shoulder, has nothing to do with the bones or muscles of the shoulder; instead, the condition manifests in the tendons that connect the two structures together, specifically the tendons that are connected to the muscle group known as the rotator cuff. These tendons are vital to the strength and stability of your shoulder, but they pass through a narrow channel between bones known as the subacromial space.

If these tendons rub against the sides of this channel, they can become irritated inflamed by the constant friction and movement. As you can imagine, this can lead to severe pain in the shoulder, particularly when the affected arm is raised over your head or when you sleep on the affected shoulder at night. Downward pushing motions can also cause the tendons to flare up and cause pain.This pain can dramatically limit the range of movement of your arm, and is often accompanied by loss of strength in the impinged shoulder, particularly when carrying weights.

How can my physiotherapist help treat your impinged shoulder?

If you suspect you are suffering from shoulder impingement syndrome, your first step should be to visit a doctor to get a concrete diagnosis; other conditions, often more serious, can cause pain and weakness in the shoulder, so it is best to rule them out. If shoulder impingement is diagnosed, physiotherapy is one of the most effective ways to treat the condition, and you can either seek out physiotherapy yourself or obtain a referred to a physiotherapy service from your doctor.

When you first see your physiotherapist, they will make a thorough assesment of your shoulder's condition, establishing the positions at which the pain is triggered and the amount of weakness (if any) that you suffer in the affected arm. Once this is done, they can offer a wide variety of treatments, including:

Shoulder strengthening exercises: These are designed to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder, opening up the subacromial space and taking some of the load of supporting your shoulder away from the tendons. Though often uncomfortable and challenging, these exercises are not painful.

Posture correction: In some cases, shoulder impingement is triggered or exacerbated by poor posture, which causes the bones of the shoulder to press together and narrows the subacromial space. Your physio can help you achieve a more open, healthy posture when standing, sitting and walking, which can relieve pressure on the irritated tendons and improve range of movement.

Massage: Deep tissue massage promotes blood flow to the affected tendons, muscles and tissues, and can increase the rate at which they heal and pain subsides. Massage techniques designed to relax tense shoulder muscles can also relieve pressure and friction on the tendons.

Complementary treatments: Many physiotherapists offer a battery of complementary treatment options alongside conventional treatments, and many shoulder impingement sufferers benefit from them. Acupuncture is a particularly popular complementary treatment than can relieve pain, weakness and muscle tension. TENS machines, which deliver small, pain-numbing electrical shocks to the shoulder, can also be effective.