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Shoulder Impingement & Osteoarthritis

Throughout our lives we can experience damage to our shoulders, often from simple bumps, bruises, and knocks that we experience as part of day to day life. One of the conditions that can affect our shoulders is shoulder impingement syndrome, where the rotator cuff tendons occasionally get compressed or trapped during normal shoulder movements. While occurring only intermittently, these occasions can lead to damage to the bursa and tendons in the shoulder resulting in ongoing pain.

Needless to say, impingement is not something that should occur as part of the shoulders normal function, and is a direct cause of inflammation and swelling in the shoulder. When inflammation and swelling are present in the shoulder tendons, it is known as rotator cuff tendonitis, whereas if the bursa itself is affected a painful inflammation can occur known as shoulder bursitis.

What Causes Shoulder Impingement?

There are a number of causes of shoulder impingement, some of them resulting from trauma or damage to the shoulder, and others from conditions like osteoarthritis that cause decay of the bones there. The shoulder itself is an impressive machine, with the rotator cuff tendons sliding smoothly over the lubricating sacks known as bursa to create flawless movement. However, if any structure in this system becomes injured impingement can result.

Osteoarthritis’s role in this condition results from bone spurs that grow in the subacromial space, the area beneath the bursa in the shoulder. These spurs compression the bursa and the tendons by reducing the amount of available space there, reducing in irritation and inflammation. While some of us are born with a smaller sub-acromial space, conditions that result in its narrowing are detrimental to healthy shoulder function.

Another potential cause for shoulder impingements come from a shoulder that has been rendered unstable due to a lack of structural support that causes excessive movement in the joint. This can result from lax ligaments and weakness in the muscles surrounding the joint. Repetitive movement can lead to this condition, as well as previous injuries, trauma, inactivity, or poor posture. As a result of this instability the rotator cuff’s job becomes harder, leading to injury.

How Do I Know If I Have A Shoulder Impingement?

There are a number of symptoms you should look out for if you suspect that you have a shoulder impingement. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you should contact your physician immediately and express your concerns:

  • Shoulder pain when the arm is raised to shoulder-height or above.
  • Pain in the shoulder that reaches from the top of the shoulder to the elbow.
  • Pain experienced when lying on a shoulder.
  • As the condition worsens pain will persist when at shoulder is at rest.
  • Weakness or pain in the shoulder when attempting to reach or lift.
  • Pain experienced when your hand is behind your back or head.
  • Shoulder-pain experienced when putting on a seat-belt.

Shoulder impingement can be treated and improved with proper care, but the longer you wait to see a physician the more irreversible damage can be done. If you suspect you have a shoulder impingement, you should see your physician immediately.