Shoulder impingement occurs when a shoulder’s rotator cuff tendons are regularly jammed and compressed during movement. This creates an injury to the shoulder tendons and bursa (fluid sac) which ultimately results in painful shoulder movement. It does not occur in normal, functioning shoulder movement.

Impingement can make the rotator cuff tendon become inflamed and swollen, producing rotator cuff tendonitis, and can inflame the bursa to cause shoulder bursitis.

The tendons are compressed under a boney arch created by part of the shoulder blade, the acromion and its ligaments.


Shoulder impingement is identifiable when pain is experienced when the arm is at shoulder height or overhead. This pain results in a loss of power and weakness is experienced, when attempting to reach or lift. It can also extend pain from the top of the shoulder to the elbow and make it uncomfortable when lying on the sore area.


Impingement can be attributed to by a lack of rotator cuff muscle strength.

This can be due to a partial tear or strain causing pain and weakness or a complete tear. Overuse and muscle imbalance brought upon by incorrect technique/training may precipitate impingement.

Loss of shoulder flexibility can cause the shoulder to hinge forward and wedge on movement.

A reduced space between the humeral head and acromion can be due to enlargement of the acromion that occurs as you age or wear which can be seen as a spur. The rotator cuff tendon itself can be thickened due to either inflammation termed rotator cuff tendonitis, or from a partial or complete tear, or calcium deposits in the tendon.


Treatments available for shoulder impingement include:

Avoid repetitive tasks using the shoulder that could aggravate the affected area

Steroid injection
An injection into the space between the acromion and rotator cuff to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the tendons

Pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medication and creams may be prescribed to decrease pain and inflammation.

Physiotherapy can limit pain and offer relief by retraining to regain strength in the rotator cuff. Our physiotherapists will provide strengthening and stretching exercises and techniques to avoid stiffness, assist with rehabilitation and protect from re-injury.


If conservative treatments are unable to correct the problem, surgery may be required. A shoulder impingement operation will involve removing the thickened bursa, some of the boney acromion and spur and releasing the ligament between the coracoid and acromion. This will free up more space for the rotator cuff tendons. The outer end of the collar bone (clavicle) maybe removed due to arthritis if it is compromising the tendon or a cause for pain. If the tendon is torn then repair the rotator cuff is required.


This procedure is a day surgery but full recovery from shoulder impingement surgery can be a slow process and a rehabilitation program will be beneficial in recovery.

sportsmed patients will undergo a personal rehabilitation program and be advised to return for regular evaluation to monitor progress.

Our orthopaedic surgeons provide detailed hospital discharge information and instructions to adhere to and assist in the recovery following surgery. The helpful hospital staff are available for advice or treatment 24 hours a day through the hospital.


This fact sheet is a brief overview of shoulder impingement, bursitis and rotator cuff tendinitis, produced by our Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist and Hand Surgeon Dr Nick Wallwork. To make an appointment or enquiry with Dr Wallwork or one of our upper limb specialists, contact 08 8362 7788 or email

Upper Limb Specialists