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What is Impingement Syndrome?

By K T Solis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Impingement syndrome is a medical condition that affects the shoulder. This condition often occurs because of an injury to the rotator cuff muscles, a group of muscles that surround the shoulder joint. When an injury takes place to this area, it begins to swell.

This swelling causes pressure to increase within the muscles. This, in turn, causes a decrease in blood flow within the blood vessels. As the blood flow slows down, the tissue of the muscles begins to deteriorate. Common actions such as reaching upwards or getting dressed can cause the person to experience pain. Without treatment, the condition can worsen, eventually leading to the tearing of the rotator cuff or rupturing of the biceps muscle.

Symptoms of this syndrome include pain when reaching upwards, to the side, or to the front of the body. The shoulder joint may feel stiff, and the person may experience a catch when trying to lower the arm. If the rotator cuff tendons are torn, it may be impossible for the person to raise the affected arm.

When a doctor suspects that a person is suffering from impingement syndrome, he or she will ask the patient a series of medical history questions. The doctor will ask the patient questions about the patient's recreational and job activities, since this condition is closely linked to repetitive physical actions. For example, people who frequently engage in the sports tennis and golf may be more prone to suffering from impingement syndrome.

After discussing medical history with the patient, the doctor will order x-rays to be taken of the affected area. He or she will look for signs of bone spurs and will determine if the roof of the shoulder appears abnormal. Magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI, may also be conducted. This is a special exam that captures images of the internal body. The MRI can show the doctor if the patient has torn or ruptured rotator cuff tendons.

Another test the doctor may use is called the arthogram test. Dye is injected inside the shoulder joint and x-rays are taken of the area. The doctor knows the patient has a torn rotator cuff tendon if the dye leaks from the shoulder joint.

If impingement syndrome is diagnosed by the physician, he or she will prescribe treatment for the patient. First, medication such as ibuprofen and aspirin are suggested. The patient is also told to rest the affected joint, applying ice to the area in order to reduce pain and swelling.

Cortisone shots can also be used if the pain does not respond to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. Other options include physical therapy to help improve the condition of the shoulder. If these treatments do not help, the doctor may recommend surgery in order to provide relief to the patient.

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