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What Are the Alternatives to Shoulder Impingement Surgery?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 17, 2024
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Alternatives to shoulder impingement surgery may be recommended for some patients who respond well to rest and over-the-counter medication. Options such as cortisone injections or anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed. Some patients respond well to physical rehabilitation therapy and exercise. Many therapists recommend ice massage as a treatment for shoulder impingement.

Patients suffering from shoulder impingement may notice symptoms appear gradually. Symptoms such as immobility and pain when reaching overhead may be caused by repetitive motion or aging. Swelling and pain may afflict one or both shoulders as well. In cases where the rotator cuff becomes frayed and torn, physicians may recommend surgery to repair the damage and to increase blood flow to the area. Surgery may also help a patient regain flexibility in the shoulder joints. Surgeons who perform shoulder impingement operations attempt to relieve pressure on the muscles caused by swelling and inflammation.

Not every patient, however, is a good candidate for shoulder impingement surgery. For those who are very frail or have serious health issues, surgery can put the patient at risk for complications. For this reason, many physicians prefer to try alternatives to shoulder impingement surgery to see how well the patient responds. Short-term use of anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed initially. Minimally invasive procedures, such as arthroscopic surgery may be an option as well.

For patients with shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tendinitis may also be diagnosed. The two conditions are similar, although shoulder impingement may cause severe immobility of the shoulder joint. In many cases, treatment options are the same for both conditions. As an alternative to surgery, there are a few steps the physician may recommend. The initial treatment may begin by applying ice to the shoulder several times a day to reduce inflammation and swelling.

The patient may also be advised not to participate in certain sports or do any overhead stretching or lifting. In some cases of shoulder impingement, rest and the use of ice may be enough to help the patient heal. When these methods fail to produce results, prescription medications may also be recommended. Certain anti-inflammatory medications can cause side effects in certain individuals, which is why long-term usage is not recommended.

Shoulder impingement surgery is generally a last option for many patients who do not respond favorably to medications and rest. Physical rehabilitation is one option many physicians prescribe for patients with an impinged shoulder. This is done in sessions, typically on a weekly basis. A trained physical therapist may teach the patient how to perform exercises that can improve his flexibility and strengthen his shoulders.

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