Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome (SIS) results from part of the scapula (shoulder blade) putting pressure on the rotator cuff as the arm is lifted. It is a common cause of shoulder pain in adults.

Above the rotator cuff is a projection of bone from the scapula called the acromion. Between these two structures lies a collection of cushioning fluid called a bursa. As the arm is lifted, the space between the acromion and the humeral head gets smaller and the two structures in between, the rotator cuff and bursa, get compressed or "impinged." This causes pain and limits movement.

The pain may be due to bursitis (inflammation of the bursa) or tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons of the rotator cuff). This inflammation is painful. In some circumstances, repetitive impingement of the rotator cuff can cause a partial tear in the cuff. This can also cause pain, especially with movement of the shoulder.

Repetitive arm movements, particularly those performed overhead, such as when swimming or playing volleyball and tennis, can increase the likelihood of developing SIS. Pain may also develop as the result of minor trauma, such as a fall onto the outstretched hand or shoulder. It can also develop spontaneously with no obvious cause.

Our Approach to Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Many patients with shoulder impingement syndrome gradually get better with rest and physical therapy. Pain medications and, for some cases, cortisone injections into the shoulder joint can reduce pain and swelling during recovery.

If the pain persists, surgery is an option. For those who need surgery, our team includes orthopedic surgeons who specialize in the shoulder, as well as physical therapists who focus on working with orthopedic and sports medicine patients. We work together to relieve pain and restore mobility, so patients can return to their normal lives and the activities they enjoy.

Awards & recognition

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    Best hospital in Northern California

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    One of the nation’s best in orthopedics

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.