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Physical Therapy for Shoulder Impingement – Information, Exercises, and More

Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints made by athletes, manual laborers, or anyone who performs repetitive overhead arm movements.

If you’re experiencing the pain and discomfort associated with shoulder impingement you may be wondering if physical therapy is the answer.

Untreated shoulder impingement can lead to more serious conditions. 

But, the good news is that most people with shoulder impingement can rehabilitate quickly and effectively, but only if acted upon immediately. 

You’ll find everything you need to know about shoulder impingement—and how to treat it—in the article below.

What is Shoulder Impingement?

The group of muscles and tendons that attach your upper arm bone to your shoulder is called the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff sits beneath the top of the shoulder, which is called the acromion.

As you can see in the video below, when your rotator cuff rubs, or catches, on the acromion this is called shoulder impingement syndrome. 

The pain you feel when you lift your arm—even to shoulder height—is caused by the narrowing of the space (called the bursa) between the rotator cuff and acromion. The pressure causes irritation to the rotator cuff, which leads to impingement.

What Causes Shoulder Impingement?

Simply speaking, shoulder impingement is caused by overuse. Repeated use of the shoulder—as in the case with baseball players, weightlifters, etc.—can cause swelling in the tendons.

You are at a higher risk of developing shoulder impingement if you are involved in an activity or occupation that requires you to use your shoulders in a forceful, or repetitive overhead motion.

These activities may include:

  • Swimming
  • Baseball
  • Weight Lifting
  • Moving boxes
  • Painting
  • Construction work

You may also be at an increased risk for shoulder impingement if you’ve had previous shoulder injuries, have an abnormally shaped acromion, or are older.

Shoulder Impingement Symptoms

Many people will experience a sudden pain when lifting their arm backward or overhead. 

Additional symptoms include:

  • Constant (but mild) pain in your shoulder
  • Weakness in your shoulder or arm
  • Pain that worsens at night
  • Pain that radiates from the front of your shoulder to your arm

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, a visit to one of our physical therapists will help to determine if you have shoulder impingement syndrome. 

Your doctor may order an X-ray, which will rule out other issues, and possibly an MRI to ensure you don’t have a more serious rotator cuff injury.

Once diagnosed, our therapists will work on a plan to treat your shoulder quickly, and effectively.

Shoulder Impingement Treatment

If you suspect that you may have shoulder impingement—or are experiencing ongoing shoulder pain—seeing a physical therapist as soon as possible can prevent progression of the condition.

Depending on the severity of your case, there are several ways to treat shoulder impingement. 

At Home Care

Combined with manual physical therapy treatments, doing gentle exercises, as recommended, will help to keep the muscles from becoming weak and stiff.

We recommend that you rest your shoulder, and try to avoid strenuous activities. It’s especially important to avoid any movements that worsen the pain.

Using an ice pack can reduce the swelling and provide some comfort at home. A few times a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can help to relieve the pain.

Physical Therapy

Studies show that combining supervised exercises with manual physical therapy leads to a quicker recovery from shoulder impingement.

Manual physical therapy for shoulder impingement may include:

  • Gentle joint movements
  • Shoulder stretches
  • Soft-tissue massage

You will also be instructed on which exercises you can do at home without supervision, and your therapist will provide an education surrounding posture and posture techniques that will help speed your recovery.

Medication and Pain Management

Combined with ice, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) will help to reduce the swelling and manage pain.

Always speak to your doctor before taking any medications.


Usually, shoulder impingement can be resolved without surgery. If left untreated, however, it may result in further damage or injury to your shoulder that could require surgery.

It’s best to seek care as soon as you feel pain, or experience mobility issues.

Shoulder Impingement Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy is the one sure-fire way to effectively treat shoulder impingement. 

Taking medication can dull the pain—but it won’t heal the injury.

Left untreated, your shoulder impingement can lead to:

  • Tendonitis
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Irritation and swelling of the bursa

Your physical therapist will devise an individualized treatment plan and will take into consideration factors such as:

  • Your pain level
  • Your previous activity level
  • Your mobility

Shoulder impingement can be painful and can affect your daily life

But the good news is that most people are fully recovered within a few months with the help of a physical therapist. 

Best Shoulder Impingement Physical Therapy Exercises

Gentle exercises—done both with a therapist and independently—will greatly increase your chances of a quick recovery.

Exercises to improve strength, mobility, and flexibility are an important part of the rehabilitation process, and may include:

  • Range of motion exercises – to help with shoulder mechanics
  • Strengthening exercises – to improve posture
  • Functional movement – to regain pain-free function 

Be sure to consult your physical therapist before engaging in any exercises involving your affected shoulder, as the risk of re-injury is higher if you have not fully recovered.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Shoulder Impingement

At In Motion O.C. you’ll be treated in our state-of-the-art facility, by our physical therapists specializing in shoulder injuries.

We’ve helped hundreds of patients suffering from shoulder impingement syndrome and succeeded in returning them to a normal and active life free of pain.

Voted #1 on Yelp for physical therapists, we continue to provide top-notch care and we have the testimonials and case studies to back our claims.

Don’t suffer needlessly, book a consultation to see one of our physical therapists today.

*This information about physical therapy for shoulder impingement was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.