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Shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement is also known as rotator cuff tendinitis. It occurs when the rotator cuff tendons rub against (or impinge) on the shoulder blade, which causes pain and irritation.

Causes and risk factors

Impingement is usually caused by overuse of the shoulder, but can also develop from an injury, or with no apparent cause at all. This condition is common in young athletes, especially for tennis players, baseball players, and swimmers. It is also common for those with occupations that require repetitive overhead movement, such as painting or construction.


  • Swelling and tenderness in the front of the shoulder
  • Sudden pain when raising the arm
  • Radiating pain from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm
  • Loss of strength and range of motion
  • Difficulty doing daily activities when the arm is behind the back, such as zipping


Conservative treatment options include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and physical therapy. If those methods do not relieve the symptoms, surgery may be needed to create space in the shoulder joint. Commonly this injury is repaired with arthroscopic surgery, but can be performed with an open surgical technique as well. The swollen tissues are removed and the surgeon trims back the acromion bone to allow for normal pain-free motion.