Many often wonder, can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement? Let’s find out!

Shoulder impingement is a condition that many encounter, often without realizing its medical terminology. It’s that nagging pain when you reach overhead, the discomfort that disrupts sleep, or the stiffness that hinders daily activities.

As we look into this ailment, we’ll see how physical therapy helps relieve and heal.

Anatomy 101: The Shoulder Complex

The shoulder is one of the human body’s most intricate and mobile joints. Comprising several bones, muscles, and tendons, it allows a vast range of motion:

man having shoulder impingement


The chief bones encompassing the shoulder are the humerus, which is the bone in the upper portion of the arm; the scapula, also called the shoulder blade; and the clavicle, which is often referred to as the collarbone. Together, they constitute the primary ball-and-socket joint in the shoulder region.

Rotator Cuff

This group of four muscles and their tendons stabilize the shoulder. They play a crucial role in lifting and rotating the arm. Impingement often involves these tendons getting compressed.


A small cushioning pouch filled with lubricating fluid between the rotator cuff and the scapula’s bony ridge. Its primary role is to minimize friction. When this bursa becomes inflamed, a condition termed bursitis, it can be associated with impingement.

Understanding this anatomy is pivotal as it provides a foundation for why impingement occurs and how physical therapy targets specific structures for relief.

Understanding Shoulder Impingement: Causes and Symptoms

Shoulder impingement results from the rotator cuff tendons getting compressed against the bony structure of the shoulder blade. This compression can stem from:

Repetitive movements

Think of the swimmer’s constant strokes or the painter’s brush motions. These repetitive overhead activities can gradually lead to impingement.

Structural abnormalities

Some individuals might have bone spurs or specific shoulder structures predisposing them to impingement.


A sudden fall, an accident, or any direct trauma to the shoulder can set the stage for impingement.

When pondering the question, can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement? It’s essential to understand its causes and symptoms. The symptoms, while varying in intensity, often revolve around:

  • A sharp or dull pain during arm elevation.
  • Discomfort while resting, especially when lying on the affected side.
  • A decrease in shoulder strength is often accompanied by stiffness.

The Comprehensive Role of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy isn’t just about treating the symptoms; it’s about understanding the body’s mechanics, identifying the root causes, and implementing a tailored strategy for recovery. 

Beyond immediate relief, physical therapy instills a sense of body awareness. It teaches individuals to listen to their bodies, recognize signs of strain, and implement preventive measures. This holistic approach ensures recovery from shoulder impingement and a reduced risk of other musculoskeletal issues.

Can Physical Therapy Fix Shoulder Impingement? Exploring the 5 Proven Techniques

Shoulder impingement can be debilitating, but recovery is within reach with the proper therapeutic techniques. 

therapist showing how can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement

Here’s a comprehensive look at five proven methods employed by physical therapists:

Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

Made up of muscles and tendons, the rotator cuff helps with movement and support of the shoulders. 

External Rotation

Using a resistance band, the patient rotates their arm outward, targeting the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles.

Internal Rotation

Again, with a resistance band, the patient rotates their arm inward, focusing on the subscapularis muscle.

Arm Elevation

Lifting the arm overhead with or without weights strengthens the supraspinatus muscle.

Regularly practicing these exercises can alleviate pressure on the impinged tendons, restoring function and reducing pain.

Scapular Stabilization and Mobility Exercises

The scapula, or shoulder blade, is foundational in arm movement. Its stability and mobility directly impact the shoulder joint.

Scapular Squeezes

This exercise enhances scapular stability by retracting the shoulder blades.

Wall Slides

Sliding arms up and down a wall promotes scapular mobility and coordination.

Ensuring the scapula’s proper function can indirectly alleviate shoulder impingement symptoms, providing a more comprehensive approach to treatment.

Postural Correction and Ergonomic Adjustments

Our daily habits, especially in today’s digital age, can contribute to shoulder issues. Proper posture and ergonomics are crucial.

Chin Tucks

This exercise promotes a neutral spine, reducing strain on the neck and shoulders.

Ergonomic Workspace Setup

Adjusting chair and screen height, using supportive backrests, and ensuring proper keyboard placement can make a significant difference.

By addressing the root causes of impingement related to daily habits, patients can experience long-term relief and prevent recurrence.

Manual Therapy and Soft Tissue Mobilization

Hands-on techniques can release muscle tightness, improve tissue health, and enhance joint mobility.

Trigger Point Release

Therapists can release tension and alleviate pain by applying pressure to specific tight spots in muscles.

Joint Mobilizations

Gentle movements of the shoulder joint can improve its range of motion and reduce impingement.

These techniques offer immediate relief and can ensure lasting recovery when combined with exercises.

Advanced Therapeutic Modalities

Modern physical therapy employs various modalities to reduce inflammation, promote healing, and relieve pain.

Therapeutic Ultrasound

This modality uses sound waves to promote tissue healing and reduce inflammation.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

 By delivering electrical impulses, TENS can alleviate pain and promote muscle function.

These modalities, when used judiciously, can accelerate the recovery process, ensuring patients return to their daily activities faster.

By focusing on these techniques, patients and therapists can collaboratively address shoulder impingement, ensuring a holistic and comprehensive approach to recovery. Each method offers unique benefits, and when combined, this solves the pressing question of can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement?

The Holistic Benefits of Physical Therapy

Beyond immediate relief, physical therapy instills a sense of body awareness. It teaches individuals to listen to their bodies, recognize signs of strain, and implement preventive measures. This holistic approach ensures recovery from shoulder impingement and a reduced risk of other musculoskeletal issues.

Consistency: The Key to Long-Term Shoulder Health

Physical therapy provides the tools and techniques for recovery, but consistency in their application is crucial. 

Regular exercise, posture checks, and periodic consultations can ensure that the gains achieved during therapy are maintained and built upon.

Importance of Early Diagnosis and Intervention

Shoulder impingement, if left untreated, can escalate into more severe conditions:

Progressive Pain

What starts as mild discomfort can transform into chronic pain, disrupting daily activities and sleep.

Rotator Cuff Tears

Continuous compression can lead to the tendons of the rotator cuff tearing, either partially or completely. This can significantly impair shoulder function.

Frozen Shoulder

A condition in which the shoulder’s flexibility diminishes and its movement becomes restricted. This can arise as a subsequent issue from unaddressed impingement. It can be a secondary development from untreated impingement.

can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement? therapist showing how it works

Early diagnosis can pinpoint the issue, often through physical examinations and imaging like MRI. Timely intervention, primarily through physical therapy, can prevent these complications, ensuring a faster and more efficient recovery.

Lifestyle Adjustments: Beyond Physical Therapy

While physical therapy is a cornerstone of treatment, integrating specific lifestyle changes can amplify recovery and prevent recurrence:

Ergonomic Office Setup

Modifying the height of your chair, utilizing comfort-enhancing cushions, and positioning the computer monitor to align with your eyes can help alleviate stress on the shoulder.

Activity Modification

If specific activities exacerbate the pain, consider modifying them. For instance, swimmers can adjust their stroke technique, and weightlifters can alter their lifting mechanics.

Regular Breaks

For those with desk jobs, taking short breaks to stretch and move can prevent stiffness and discomfort.

Exercise Regimen

Incorporating shoulder-strengthening exercises into one’s regular workout routine can fortify the shoulder against future issues.

Physical Therapy vs. Surgery: Weighing the Options

Physical therapy offers a non-invasive and effective treatment route for many with shoulder impingement. However, in severe cases, surgery might be considered. Here’s a comparative look:

Physical Therapy

Focuses on strengthening the shoulder muscles, improving flexibility, and correcting postural issues. It’s a gradual process but can often resolve impingement without surgical intervention.


Typically considered when conservative treatments don’t yield results. The most common procedure is subacromial decompression, where the surgeon removes a small part of the bone or bursa to create more space for the rotator cuff.

It’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action. Even if surgery is performed, physical therapy is often recommended post-operatively to aid rehabilitation.

The Verdict: Can Physical Therapy Fix Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder impingement, while a common ailment, doesn’t have to dictate one’s quality of life. With the proper therapeutic techniques, a proactive approach, and a commitment to recovery, individuals can regain full shoulder function and resume their active, pain-free lifestyles. And to answer the question, can physical therapy fix shoulder impingement? It is definitely a YES!

Seeking guidance from professionals who understand the condition’s intricacies and can offer tailored treatments is crucial. 

Precision Sports Physical Therapy is a testament to this commitment, ensuring personalized care prioritizes each patient’s journey to optimal shoulder health and overall well-being.