In most areas of the body, bone is surrounded by muscles and tendons that allow that part of the body to move. The shoulder is different. It is actually made up of three bones – the humerus or arm bone, the scapula or shoulder blade, and the clavicle or collarbone. Rather than being “wrapped” in tendon and muscle, these three bones are attached by a series of muscles and tendons called a rotator cuff. There is a lubricating sac at the top of your arm bone called the bursa that allows the rotator cuff to move freely when you move your arm. If the rotator cuff tendons become damaged or if the bursa becomes inflamed, the result can be significant pain in the shoulder. However, when you raise your arm to shoulder-height, the space between the rotator cuff and the bone at the top of your shoulder (the acromion) narrows. The acromion can rub against the tendon or bursa leading to shoulder impingement.
Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement
Often times people who suffer with shoulder impingement find that they have a hard time lifting their arm above their head. This can take the form of being unable to lift something overhead or having trouble putting on a coat. If left untreated, shoulder impingement wears down the tendons or bursa in the shoulder, causing a tear to occur in the rotator cuff often requiring surgery to repair it.
What Causes Shoulder Impingement
Generally, shoulder impingement is caused by overhead repetitive motions. Swimmers, tennis players, construction workers, painters, or athletes like baseball players and weight lifters are all susceptible to shoulder impingement. However, athletes are not the only ones that find themselves unable to lift their arm over their head without pain. Shoulder impingement is caused by the shortening of the space between the acromion and the rotator cuff. Poor posture caused by our daily habits can also shorten that space. The postures we have while reading, working, texting, driving, cooking, or exercising can all have an impact on the amount of subacromion space we have in our shoulders.
How to Treat Shoulder Impingement From Poor Posture
Regardless of the cause, the first goal is to reduce the inflammation in the joint. This may be done through anti-inflammatory medications and the application of ice when pain occurs. Once inflammation has been reduced, the best way to get rid of shoulder impingement is to see a physical therapist. Not only will they be able to perform a thorough physical examination to rule out other underlying causes, they will be able to create a customized treatment plan designed for you. Treatment is likely to include avoiding repetitive, overhead motions for a time, but it will also include stretches to reduce the impingement and strengthening exercises to prevent it from recurring.
In the case of shoulder impingement from poor posture, a physical therapist is also likely to recommend adjustments to improve your posture. Making sure you have an ergonomic workspace, improving your posture while doing daily tasks, and stretching appropriately throughout the day will all treat the underlying cause of your shoulder impingement and keep it from returning.
Whether from poor posture or from repetitive tasks, shoulder impingement is not something to be taken lightly. If you are experiencing pain when you move your arms overhead, talk to your physical therapist. The sooner the condition is treated, the more successful the treatment will be.