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3 Ways Chiropractic Care Can Help Shoulder Impingement

Published Date: 
December 21, 2023
Man on an outdoor trail experiencing shoulder pain.

Shoulder impingement is a condition that develops when the upper outer edge of the shoulder blade (acromion) pinches or rubs against the rotator cuff.

Shoulder impingement is a painful condition. The pinching and rubbing irritate the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles. They start on the shoulder blade and attach the tendon to the arm bone. It's called the rotator cuff because the muscles help to raise the arm upward and rotate it toward and away from the body.

When the rotator cuff is irritated, it swells. Since it's surrounded by bone, the swelling triggers other issues, including reducing the space around the rotator cuff, which causes the impingement. This creates a painful cycle of rubbing, which causes swelling, which narrows the space and causes more irritation.

As uncomfortable and downright painful as shoulder impingement can be, addressing it with invasive medical treatments is not always necessary. For many, chiropractic care is enough to alleviate impingement and return everything to its healthy and fully mobile state.

Chiropractic care is used to improve the health of the neuromusculoskeletal system. It's an all-natural, effective way to treat shoulder impingement. The goal is to support the body's natural healing tendency and to determine the root cause of the problem and address it. Instead of masking symptoms or helping you "get through" the pain, chiropractic treatment fixes the problem. And it does so without surgery or other invasive and risky treatments.

Chiropractor adjusting young male patient's shoulder.

Some of the specific ways chiropractors help with this condition include:

1. Improve Shoulder Joint Mobility and Alignment with Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractic adjustments are the primary treatment offered by chiropractors. It can be done manually or with an adjustment tool. During an adjustment, chiropractors use sudden and controlled pressure to adjust the shoulder joint. This reduces inflammation and friction in the area and promotes proper joint alignment.

2. Relax Tight Muscles and Tendons with Soft Tissue Therapies

Chiropractors use and/or recommend massage therapy and other soft tissue therapies to treat shoulder impingement. They can also show you self-massage techniques to do at home to help with the pain. Massage works the soft tissue in the area to break apart adhesions and improve your range of motion.

3. Provide Custom Stretching and Strengthening Exercises to Promote Healing

In addition to the chiropractic adjustment and treatments used during your chiropractic appointment, you'll also receive custom stretching and strengthening exercises you can do on your own. These exercises are meant to help with mobility and shoulder pain relief. They also promote healing. You'll work on these exercises during your appointment to ensure you are doing them correctly, and then you'll be given a regimen to do on your own between appointments.

In addition to relieving pain and helping with healing, these exercises also reduce the risk of developing future impingements. With practice, you'll find that your mobility is restored, and activities you might not be able to tolerate now will be done with ease.

Benefits of Seeing a Chiropractor for Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement can affect daily activities and your quality of life. Living with chronic pain affects every aspect of your well-being. Not only do you feel physically limited, your mental health will suffer. Working with a chiropractor is a tool for self-care that promotes your body's natural healing ability.

Chiropractor assessing a shoulder injury.

Chiropractic care offers a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific situation. It can help you heal and prevent future instances of impingement. Treatment plans typically include manipulation, massage, stretching, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and lifestyle modifications. Posture is especially important for preventing shoulder impingement and various other issues.

Chiropractic treatment is gentle and allows your body to relax and restore itself. It promotes healthy blood flow, which plays an important role in healing. Treatment reduces inflammation and improves flexibility. All of these treatment approaches make pain more manageable.

Chiropractors offer a threefold treatment approach. Treatment:

  • Eases immediate pain
  • Helps the body heal and correct the problem
  • Improves health and the body's function so you have a reduced risk of problems re-occurring

Chiropractic care is a safe, all-natural option for people with shoulder impingement. Chiropractors take a drug-free approach to healing, so you don't need to worry about dealing with unpleasant side effects over-the-counter and/or prescription pain relief medications. It's a non-invasive option for people hoping to avoid surgery who want to get to the root of the problem and make corrections instead of just masking symptoms.

Causes & Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement

The causes of shoulder impingement include:

  • Swollen or torn tendon caused by overuse, especially from a repetitive activity
  • Swelling caused by a shoulder injury or age-related wear and tear
  • Irritated bursa, which is the fluid-filled sac between the acromion and the tendon
  • An acromion that is not flat, which is a genetic or age-related condition
  • Poor posture, which can cause swelling or tearing
  • Bone spurs on the acromion

Symptoms of shoulder impingement include pain:

  • In the arms, when you extend them above your head
  • In the arm, when lowering it from a raised position
  • In the front of the shoulder
  • In the front of the shoulder that moves to the side of your arm
  • That occurs when lying on the affected side
  • That occurs at night and interferes with sleeping
  • When reaching behind your back

Shoulder impingement can also cause weakness in the shoulder or arm in addition to pain.

Activities & Exercises to Avoid Worsening Shoulder Impingement

There are several activities you should avoid when dealing with shoulder impingement because it can worsen the condition. These include:

  • Throwing, especially overhead, as you would do in baseball or softball
  • Motions that glide your arm overhead, as you'd do in tennis
  • Certain types of weightlifting
  • Reaching overhead or behind your back
  • Exercises that include upright row, neck press, pushups, behind-the-neck pulldowns, triceps dips, and freestyle swimming
  • Sleeping on the affected side
Young baseball pitcher throwing a ball.

You should also not ignore the pain. If you push through it and hope it goes away, it can make the condition worse. Understand that pain is your body's way of telling you something isn't right. Mild discomfort, such as you'd feel stretching or after a workout, is usually not a cause for concern.

Pain is a different story. If you feel pain, you should take it seriously and know that something needs attention. If you're dealing with shoulder impingement, or you suspect that could be the case, you should acknowledge the pain and seek treatment for it.

Dr. Darren Faherty D.C.

In 2004, Dr. Darren Faherty graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from UWEC - University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Dr. Darren continued education at the highly esteemed University of Western States (formerly Western States Chiropractic College) where he obtained his chiropractic degree in 2007. He has been helping people recover from injuries and return to their normal lifestyles ever since.

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