Shoulder impingement is a common injury among athletes, workers who perform heavy lifting and repetitive moving tasks, and people with joint disorders such as arthritis. The condition involves inflammation and swelling of the rotator cuff and nearby tendons and muscles in the shoulder, and commonly leads to symptoms of pain, visible swelling in the shoulder, and a limited range of motion. The most common treatment for the injury involves regular, light shoulder impingement exercises to gradually regain strength and motion over the course of several weeks. Individuals can perform shoulder impingement exercises at home for minor injuries, though more severe or persistent problems may require physical therapy sessions at a rehabilitation clinic or hospital, where a trained professional can implement exercise routines and monitor progress.
Home shoulder impingement exercises usually involve repetitive stretching movements to improve flexibility in the shoulder and increase the range of motion. In pendulum stretching exercises, individuals stand up with their arms relaxed at their sides, and allow them to swing backward, forward, side-to-side, and in small circles. These movements help to increase the flexibility of joints and muscles when performed two to three times a day. After the shoulder has had at least a week to begin healing, an individual may hold weights while performing pendulum exercises.
Other home exercises are geared at improving muscle strength. Recovering shoulders can be strengthened by squeezing the shoulder blades together while laying down, raising the arm above the head several times, and engaging in very light weightlifting. Doctors typically instruct individuals to get plenty of rest before and after exercises, apply ice packs to reduce swelling and pain, and keep the shoulder elevated to promote proper blood flow.
If a doctor recommends physical therapy, the patient will meet regularly with a therapist to strengthen his or her damaged shoulder. With information from the physician and the patient, the therapist designs a custom set of shoulder impingement exercises that usually involve resistance training and muscle building. A therapist might help an individual raise his or her arm repetitively, or provide resistance while the patient tries to move the arm forward. Many rehabilitation clinics feature swimming pools and specially-designed weightlifting equipment to help a person regain strength and muscle tone.
In many cases, doctors recommend that patients supplement their shoulder impingement exercises with prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to further reduce symptoms and shorten healing time. If an individual's shoulder problems do not subside, or if a doctor discovers a significant tear in the muscles or rotator cuff, surgery may be necessary. A surgeon can remove part of the shoulder blade, cut away inflamed tissue, or attempt to suture tendons to promote proper functioning.