Shoulder impingement is a very common cause of shoulder pain, where a tendon (band of tissue) inside your shoulder rubs or catches on nearby tissue and bone as you lift your arm.
It affects the rotator cuff tendon, which is the rubbery tissue that connects the muscles around your shoulder joint to the top of your arm.
An impinging shoulder will often improve in a few weeks or months, especially with the right type of shoulder exercises, but occasionally it can be an ongoing problem and a few people may need surgery.
This page covers:
Shoulder impingement can start suddenly or come on gradually.
Your shoulder won't usually be stiff. If it is, you might have a frozen shoulder instead.
Read about other causes of shoulder pain.
See your GP if you have shoulder pain that doesn't go away after a few weeks or is stopping you from doing your normal activities.
Your GP will look at your shoulder and ask you to move your arm in different ways to see how easily you can move it and if movement makes the pain worse.
They may suggest some treatments you can try or refer you to a physiotherapist for treatment advice. You probably won't need to go to hospital for any scans.
You can also go straight to a physiotherapist without seeing your GP, but you might need to pay. Read about finding a physiotherapist.
Your GP may be able to advise you about simple shoulder exercises you can do.
Physiotherapists can also diagnose shoulder impingement and suggest exercises to help improve shoulder posture and further strengthen your muscles to improve your pain and range of movement.
You may need to do these exercises with a physiotherapist at first, but after a while you'll usually be able to continue doing them at home.
Return to your GP or physiotherapist if the exercises make your pain worse or your pain doesn't improve after a few weeks.
Steroid injections into your shoulder can help relieve pain if rest and exercises on their own don't help.
But it's still important to do your shoulder exercises, as injections usually only have an effect for a few weeks and your pain may come back if you stop the exercises.
While the injection can be repeated if needed, having more than two isn't usually recommended because it might damage the tendon in your shoulder in the long term.
The injections can also have side effects, such as permanent dimpling or lightening of the skin where the injection is given.
An operation called a subacromial decompression may be an option if other treatments haven't helped.
This involves widening the space around the rotator cuff tendon, so that it doesn't rub or catch on anything nearby.
The operation is usually done using small surgical instruments passed through small cuts in your shoulder – this is a type of keyhole surgery known as arthroscopy. It's usually done under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep).
Most people can go home the same day or the day after surgery and are able to use their shoulder normally again after a few weeks.
When you lift your arm, the rotator cuff tendon passes through a narrow space at the top of your shoulder, known as the subacromial space.
Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendon rubs or catches on the bone at the top of this space, called the acromion.
This can happen if: