Impingement syndrome is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. It occurs when there is damage to the soft tissue in the shoulder, rather than the bone.
A group of muscles and tendons wrap around the ball part of the ball and socket joint. These muscles coordinate the motion of the ball so it rolls instead of slides when you move your shoulder.
When you become older, or when you tear a shoulder muscle, the ball starts to slide rather than roll. As a result, it “impinges” upon the rest of the shoulder, causing pain.
“Impingement syndrome affects people of all ages,” says Andrew C. Trueblood, MD, orthopedic surgeon who practices at Saint Francis Healthcare System. “It can occur in high school students, particularly athletes who regularly throw overhead, such as baseball pitchers, people in their 20s and 30s, and adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s.”
In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen will effectively treat the problem. Steroid injections also reduce the pain.
“When you experience shoulder pain, the sooner you see a doctor to diagnose the problem, the better,” says Trueblood. “We can perform a close examination to make sure you do not have any serious problems that require immediate treatment. Then, we can show you exercises to start you on the path toward healing.”
If you wait to seek treatment, you may start adjusting your motions to compensate for the pain. That could lead to the need for more formal interventions, such as physical therapy or even surgery in rare cases.
“About 70 to 80 percent of people with impingement syndrome get better with medication, exercises and rest, and the problem does not return,” says Trueblood. “When my patients have persistent problems, I have to start investigating the cause. That is when we need to perform advanced imaging to discover what is happening.”
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