7 Best Shoulder Impingement Exercises

Published: 09:27 am, Mon June 10, 2024

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Shoulder impingement affects up to 2% of the population globally, and can limit your ability to enjoy activities you love. Thankfully, exercise can help you manage it and get back in full swing. Shoulder impingement exercises target the muscles that support your shoulder joint, improving stability and reducing inflammation. In this post, we’ll teach you how to overcome shoulder impingement through exercise. 

What Is Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement happens when your rotator cuff tendons get compressed in the space underneath your shoulder blade (the subacromial space). Repetitive overhead activities, such as swimming or throwing sports, often irritate these tendons and lead to impingement. Poor posture, anatomical variations (like a curved or hooked acromion), and degenerative changes in the shoulder also contribute to this condition.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

You might notice several symptoms if you have shoulder impingement. Common signs include pain when you lift your arm, especially above shoulder level, and discomfort when you reach behind your back or lie on the affected shoulder. You might also notice that your shoulder is not as strong as it used to be and that you can't move it as much. Sometimes, your shoulder might hurt all the time, even when you're not doing anything. A doctor can usually tell if you have shoulder impingement just by examining your shoulder, checking how well you can move it, how strong it is, and where it hurts. They often perform specific tests, such as the Neer and Hawkins-Kennedy tests, to check for impingement signs. X-rays or MRI scans can rule out other conditions and point out any structural issues within your shoulder.

How Exercise Helps in Relieving Symptoms

Targeted exercises can help with shoulder impingement. Stretching and strengthening the muscles around your shoulder joint creates more space and takes the pressure off the irritated tendons. Focus on stretches that improve flexibility, and exercises that build strength and stabilize your shoulder blade. Good posture and mindful use of your shoulder throughout the day can also make a big difference. Stick with these exercises, and you'll be on your way to less pain, better movement, and maybe even avoiding injections or surgery.

Precautions Before Starting Exercises

Before starting any exercise, here are some precautions you must consider:

Warm Up Before Exercises

Warming up before exercising is important! It gets blood flowing to your muscles, makes them more flexible, and helps prevent injuries. Spend at least 5-10 minutes warming up. For shoulder impingement, focus on gentle aerobic activities that engage your upper body, such as light arm circles, shoulder shrugs, or a brisk walk.

Listening to Your Body to Avoid Further Injury

Pay close attention to how your shoulder feels during and after each exercise. If you experience sharp pain, discomfort, or increased inflammation, immediately stop the exercise immediately and consult your physical therapist. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercises, allowing your shoulder to adapt and strengthen over time. Don't go overboard and push yourself too hard. It's not worth it because you might worsen your shoulder and take longer to get better. Instead, take it easy and do the exercises slowly and correctly. That way, you'll get the most out of them.

Best Shoulder Impingement Exercises

Here are 10 common and practical shoulder impingement exercises for you:

Pendulum Stretch

This exercise can help make your shoulder more flexible, loosen it up when it's feeling stiff, and help your muscles relax

Description and Steps:

  • Stand next to a table or chair and place one hand on it for support.
  • Let your affected arm hang down freely.
  • Gently swing your arm in small circles, gradually increasing the size of the circles.
  • Perform the motion for about a minute, then switch directions.

Cross-Body Stretch

This exercise helps stretch the muscles in the back of your shoulder, making them more flexible and less tight.

Description and Steps

  • Stand or sit up straight.
  • Raise your affected arm and bring it across your body toward the opposite shoulder.
  • Use your other hand to gently pull your arm across your body, feeling a stretch in the back of your shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then relax and repeat 3-5 times.

Doorway Stretch

Doing doorway stretches can really help loosen up your chest and front shoulder muscles, making it easier to move your shoulders around.

Description and Steps

  • Stand in a doorway with your arms at a 90-degree angle and elbows at shoulder height.
  • Place your forearms on the door frame.
  • Step forward with one foot, gently leaning into the doorway until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders and chest.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then step back and repeat 3-5 times.

Scapular Squeeze

Scapular squeezes strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades. This can improve your posture and stabilize your shoulder girdle.

Description and Steps:

  • Sit or stand up straight with your arms at your sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you are trying to hold a pencil between them.
  • Hold the squeeze for 5-10 seconds, then relax.
  • Repeat this exercise 10-15 times.

External Rotation With Resistance Band

This exercise targets the shoulder's external rotators, the muscles in your shoulder that help you rotate your arm away from your body. It's a great way to build strength and stability in your shoulder joint.

Description and Steps

  • Attach a resistance band to a stable object at elbow height.
  • Stand sideways to the band, holding it in the hand of the affected arm.
  • Keep your elbow close to your side, bent at 90 degrees.
  • Pull the band away from your body, rotating your arm outward while keeping your elbow fixed.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Internal Rotation With Resistance Band

This exercise strengthens the shoulder's internal rotators, improving overall shoulder function.

Description and Steps:

  • Attach a resistance band to a stable object at elbow height.
  • Stand sideways to the band, holding it in the hand of the affected arm, with the band coming from the opposite side.
  • Keep your elbow close to your side, bent at 90 degrees.
  • Pull the band across your body, rotating your arm inward while keeping your elbow fixed.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Doing shoulder blade squeezes can make your shoulder muscles stronger and work better together. This can help you stand up straighter and keep your shoulders in the right place.

Description and Steps:

  • Stand or sit up straight with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, but also slightly pull your shoulders downward this time.
  • Hold the squeeze for 5-10 seconds, then relax.

Additional Tips for Managing Shoulder Impingement

Apart from exercises, here are some additional tips for managing shoulder impingement:

Maintaining Good Posture

Keeping your back and shoulders in a good position is crucial for improving shoulder impingement. So, try to avoid slouching or rounding your shoulders forward, and keep your shoulders back and down. Proper posture reduces unnecessary strain on your shoulder muscles and tendons, helping to reduce pain and prevent further injury. Regularly check and correct your posture throughout the day, especially if you spend long hours sitting or working at a desk.

Ergonomic Adjustments in Daily Activities

Make ergonomic adjustments to your daily activities to minimize stress on your shoulders. Ensure your workstation is set up correctly, with your computer monitor at eye level and your chair providing enough support. Use a headset for phone calls instead of cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear. When performing tasks that require repetitive arm movements, take frequent breaks to rest your shoulders and vary your activities to avoid overuse.

Avoiding Activities That Worsen the Pain

Pay attention to activities that trigger or worsen your shoulder pain and modify or avoid them as necessary. This may include heavy lifting, repetitive overhead movements, or certain sports. If you must perform these activities, use proper techniques and take breaks to reduce strain on your shoulder. Listening to your body and avoiding activities exacerbating the pain can help prevent further injury and promote healing.

Importance of Regular Follow-Up with Healthcare Professionals

It's really important to keep in touch with your doctor or physical therapist about your shoulder impingement so they can help you look after it properly A physical therapist or doctor can keep an eye on how you're doing and change your exercise plan if needed. They can also help you figure out and fix any underlying issues that might be making your condition worse.

Relieve Shoulder Pain With Lancaster Orthopedic Group

At Lancaster Orthopedic Group, our skilled physicians and therapists will evaluate your condition and collaborate with you to design a personalized treatment plan, whether you need shoulder replacement surgery or specialized physical therapy. Schedule your appointment today by calling 717-560-4200.

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