What is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

Shoulder impingement syndrome (SIS), also known as “impingement syndrome,” is a medical diagnosis for when the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder become stuck and put pressure on sensory nerves near it. It creates an altered sensation of pain and can cause difficulty moving the arm.

What Is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

Impingement syndrome is a shoulder condition characterized by partial or complete contact between the rotator cuff tendons and the bony structures. The term impingement syndrome refers to the compression of tissues against bone, which causes pain and signs and symptoms that may include “catching” with overhead movements, weakness, wearing away of bone on bone, or a combination of these.

What Is My Rotator Cuff, And What Does It Do?

Your rotator cuff is a group of tendons, which attach your muscles to the bone. The rotator cuff stabilizes your upper arm and helps control the position of your arm as you move. It is composed of three forces: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis. As you move, the tendons slide across a space in between bones called the bony socket. Several nerves pass through that space and can be compressed by abnormal movements or placed under such abnormal pressure.

How Does Shoulder Impingement Syndrome Develop?

Impingement syndrome develops despite a normal or entirely healthy rotator cuff tendon unit. Impingement syndrome is also known as “idiopathic” because its causes are unknown.
Impingement syndrome can be caused by acute trauma or overuse. Acute trauma may result in a partial rotator cuff tear, which can cause impingement syndrome if not repaired.

Who Gets Shoulder Impingement?

Most people diagnosed with impingement syndrome have no rotator cuff tear present. Impingement syndrome may occur in any person with a standard or healthy tendon unit, without injury, and without pain at rest. The incidence of impingement syndrome is similar between men and women and occurs regardless of age.

What Causes Shoulder Impingement?

The cause of impingement syndrome is unknown. Impingement syndrome has been found to occur in association with many different injuries but not solely due to damage. It may also happen without associated injury or trauma, called “idiopathic impingement.”

What Are The Symptoms Of Shoulder Impingement?

Impingement syndrome causes pain in the shoulder joint, especially with overhead activity and resistance by the arms against gravity while performing resisted tasks. Shoulder pain may radiate down the upper arm. Pain may also be judged from the back of the neck to the upper arm. There may be a decreased sensation in areas of skin over affected muscles, which can occur with rotator cuff tears.

How Is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome Treated?

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a non-specific diagnosis, meaning there may be many different causes for the same symptoms. Each case should be evaluated individually. Treatment may include rest, ice, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. In severe cases, steroid injections can relieve pain and inflammation that can last for several weeks. If these treatments do not provide adequate relief from pain, surgery may be recommended to decompress the area around the rotator cuff tendon.


Shoulder impingement syndrome can be painful, uncomfortable and cause weakness and muscle fatigue. These injuries may be responsible for years of pain and discomfort that an individual is unaware of.

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POSMC is a full-service medical facility specializing in the evaluation and treatment of orthopedic injuries. The practice is led by a group of 12 board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons and a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. Contact us today!

Dr. Matthew C. Comley

Shoulder, Knee and Sports Medicine
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Dr. Randal L. Troop

Shoulder, Knee and Sports Medicine
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Dr. Michael S. Howard

Shoulder, Elbow and Upper extremity
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Dr. John E. McGarry

General Orthopedics, Shoulder, Knee and Sports Medicine
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Dr. Earl R. Lund

Shoulder, Elbow, Hand and Wrist
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