Shoulder Impingement Syndrome 

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its joint. They help the shoulder move. The rotator cuff muscles and tendons can become irritated from repeated rubbing against the shoulder bone. This is called shoulder impingement syndrome or rotator cuff tendonitis.

If your case is mild, you may only need to rest the shoulder and then do certain exercises to strengthen the muscles. You can also take anti-inflammatory medicines. Steroid injections into the shoulder can ease inflammation. But you can have only a limited number of these. If the condition gets worse, your shoulder muscles may become thin and weak. This can lead to a rotator cuff tear.

Symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome may include:

  • Shoulder pain that gets worse when you raise your arm overhead

  • Weakness of the shoulder muscles when you use your arm overhead

  • Popping and clicking when you move your shoulder

  • Shoulder pain that wakes you up at night, especially when you sleep on the affected shoulder

  • Sudden pain in your shoulder when you lift or reach

  • Pain that spreads from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm

Home care

Follow these tips to take care of yourself at home:

  • Don't do activities that make your pain worse. These include raising your arms overhead, repeating the same motion over and over, or lifting heavy objects.

  • Don’t hold your arm in one position for a long time. Keep it moving.

  • Put an ice pack on the sore area for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours for the first day. You can make an ice pack by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag. Wrap the bag in a thin towel before putting it on your shoulder. A frozen bag of peas or something similar can also be used as an ice pack. Don't place the ice pack directly on your skin. Place a towel between it and your skin. Use the ice packs 3 to 4 times a day for the next 2 days. Continue using the ice to relieve the pain and swelling as needed.

  • You may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If prednisone was prescribed, don’t take anti-inflammatory medicines. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.

  • After your symptoms ease, you may get physical therapy or start a home exercise program. This can strengthen your shoulder muscles and help your range of motion. Talk with your doctor about what is best for your condition.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Shoulder pain that gets worse and wakes you up at night

  • Pain and weakness that gets worse when you reach up or raise your arms over your shoulders

  • Your shoulder or arm swells

  • Numbness, tingling, or pain that travels down the arm to the hand

  • Loss of shoulder strength

  • Fever or chills

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