Shoulder Impingement Exercises – Mobility, Stretching & Strengthening
In order to better explain the causes and move on to some very useful exercises for shoulder impingement, we first need to understand the anatomy of the shoulder.
The shoulder is composed of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle (collarbone).
The arm is kept in place by the rotator cuff; muscles and tendons form a system which covers the head of the humerus and keeps it attached to the scapula. Between the rotator cuff and the acromion ( the bone on top of the shoulder) there is a lubricating sac called the bursa, whose role is to facilitate free arm movement.
Shoulder impingement syndrome, also known as subacromial impingement, painful arc syndrome,swimmer’s shoulder, or thrower’s shoulder, is a clinical condition which occurs when the tendons of the muscles become irritated and inflamed as they pass beneath the acromion, which results in the incapacity to move the shoulder.
This is due to the fact that when the arm is raised above shoulder height, it narrows the distance between the acromion and the rotator cuff, causing the later to impinge on the bursa and thus provoking pain in the shoulder.
It usually occurs because of repeated overhead arm movement, and is commonly experienced by people whose activities include lifting weights, swimming, tennis or painting. Other causes are injury or calcium deposits within the tendon.
Common symptoms –
Symptoms include constant minor pain even when resting, pain which radiates around the shoulder area, loss of strength and difficulty moving, consistent pain at night. This syndrome affects daily activities as simple as getting dressed, and, unless treated, may lead to more serious problems such as rotator cuff tear.
If you are experience shoulder pain and suspect you might be suffering from shoulder impingement syndrome, consult your doctor before taking any medication or doing / resuming exercise. They may have you go through a series of tests, including an X-ray to rule out other causes.
The treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatory and pain medications completed by physical therapy. For full recovery, both mobility and strength need to be regained.
Following, we will share and describe the best exercises for gaining them:
Mobility Exercises – Stretching
Stretching plays a great part in the recovery process, precisely in reminding your muscles how to move and gaining back mobility. Here are some exercises which can be done regularly and are good for you even if you are well and have no pain. Please discontinue any of these if you feel any pain.
1. Chest stretch
With your forearm placed against a wall or other fixed surface, gently lean to and from it to stretch the chest muscles. Pay attention to the stretching sensation in your muscle and focus on it. Once you’re familiar with the movement and you feel it’s working, hold on to the position for 20 to 30 seconds – repeat 3 times.
Watch this video for more information –
2. Supra-spinatus stretch
While keeping the back of your hand on your lower back, use the other hand to pull the elbow forward. This will gently stretch your deltoid and trapezius (the muscles behind your shoulder). Hold for 20 to 30 seconds at a time and repeat 5 times.
Here is a video that explain how to it properly –
3. Anterior shoulder stretch
Hold on to something above your height (within easy reach, though, not too high), and move forwards in such a way that the arm stays behind in a straight position. You should feel a gentle stretch in the front deltoid and chest muscle. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
4. Posterior shoulder stretch
Place one arm in front of you, as if you were trying to hug yourself – but keep it stretched and straight. Use your other arm to pull it tight against your chest. You should feel a gentle stretch in the muscle behind your shoulder. Again, hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds.
Another important aspect of recovery from impingement is gaining back the strength in the muscles. Please use small weights for these exercises (2-3 kg) and discontinue if you feel any pain:
1. External rotation lying
Start by lying on your side with the affected arm facing upwards; with the upper arm resting against your body, weight in hand, bend the elbow in front of you so that your hand points to the floor. Rotate your shoulder to move your your elbow back up so that the hand raises as far as possible. Try to do up to 20 repetitions.
2. Internal rotation lying
Start by laying on the same side as the arm that you’re exercising. With your forearm parallel to the floor, rotate the shoulder in order to lift the weight upwards in front of your stomach. Lower back slowly and repeat for up to 20 times.
3. External rotation in abduction
Raise your arm to the side at 90 degrees (the arm should be parallel to the floor). Rest it on a firm surface if available. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees by lifting your hand. Maintaining the elbow in a fixed position, use your shoulder to move your forearm and hand up and down. Try to achieve up to 20 repetitions.
While standing (or seating) with your back as straight as possible, hold your head still, and your arms in a straight position and try to pull your shoulders back without moving anything but the shoulders. Gradually work up from 3 sets of 10 to 30 repetitions. Once you are able to do this without any weights or with lighter ones, you are ready to add or increase them.
5. Scapula squeeze exercises
Start in a seating position; while keeping your elbows firm at the sides of your body, squeeze your shoulder blades together as tight as you can and hold for up to 10 seconds at a time.
We hope these exercises will help you forget about pain and regain strength and mobility in your shoulder. If you are feeling pain and you are not certain of the cause, though, please do not attempt any of them unless approved by your physician first.