Shoulder impingement, also known as Swimmer’s Shoulder, is a painful repetitive strain injury caused by a tendon rubbing or grinding against the shoulder blade. Shoulder impingement often causes consistent and increasing pain when a patient lifts their arm to reach for something.
People often develop this injury during swimming, volleyball, tennis, and other sports that require the player to lift the arms above their head in a repeated motion. It’s also often common in construction workers and other contractors like painters and electricians.
The shoulder comprises several connecting joints, muscles, and tendons, making it quite susceptible to injuries. Fortunately, carefully stretching and strengthening the shoulder can improve symptoms and reduce the likelihood of a future flare-up. Here are our top 5 favorite exercises:
5 Best Exercises to Treat Shoulder Impingement
While there are many different types of treatment to alleviate the pain of shoulder impingement, stretching is one of the easiest ways to relieve pain and prevent further injury. Do each of the following exercises slowly and listen to your body. If your shoulder impingement is particularly inflamed, consider using ibuprofen gel on the area to reduce inflammation and do these stretches a few times a day.
1. Shoulder Blade Flexes
Stand with your back straight. Keep your arms at your sides and the palms of your hands facing forward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together toward your back, as if you were trying to push your shoulder blades backward, a little like a swan about to flap its wings. Hold this for five seconds, if possible. Release and relax your shoulders, then repeat 4-6 times.
2. Armpit Stretch
Sit or stand with your back straight and raise your hand and place it on the top or side of your head. Then, slowly, turn your head and bend your head down to your armpit. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, not going past the point of discomfort, then release. Build up to holding a deep stretch for 10 seconds, repeating on each side for 3 reps.
3. Doorway Shoulder Stretch
Stand in a doorway and hold the side of the doorframe with the arm experiencing the most discomfort. Keep this arm slightly below your shoulder and turn your upper body away from the affected arm. You will feel a slight stretch in your shoulder, so don’t hold this for any longer than 20 seconds at a time.
As your arm heals, gradually bring the arm higher up the wall, until you can put the arm flat against the wall next to you, with your hand pointing up to the ceiling. This can take time, so don’t rush this stretch.
Repeat this with both arms, even if only one shoulder is experiencing discomfort.
4. Crossover Arm Stretch
Stand up straight, lifting the affected arm out in front of you. Keep it straight and below shoulder height. Using your other arm, pull the affected arm gently across your body. Hold this for five to 10 seconds, then relax your arms and return to your starting position. Repeat this simple stretch five times. This is a great one to do throughout the day, whenever you have a spare minute or feel your shoulder starting to lose mobility.
5. Lying Down Shoulder Stretch
Lie flat on the floor on your back, and hold a long pole between your hands over your hips. Allow your spine to relax and kiss the floor. Slowly, raise both arms up and over your head. Your goal is to lie your arms flat on the floor above your head, and then return to your first position, with the pole over your hips.
If you experience resistance or pain, hold for a moment, and then return to your starting position. Over time, you’ll find you gain mobility, so don’t force it.
When you’re well on your way to recovery, place your hands closer together on the pole. The distance between your hands will dictate how hard (close together) or easy (wide) this stretch is.
Aim for Whole-Body Mobility
If any of these exercises feel painful to you, never push beyond the point of pain. If you are experiencing significant pain, rest completely and take anti-inflammatories for a few days. If you see no improvement, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist to ensure you do not need further treatment before doing rehabilitation exercises like these.
Whether you swim competitively or work in a job that requires working overhead, you may have experienced shoulder impingement. Repetitive strain injuries are common, but can often be avoided with care and by strengthening the surrounding muscles and joints so you don’t put all the strain on the problem shoulder.Our eBook, Joint Health 101, shares the best ways to maintain joint mobility and prevent future injury. Why not pick up a copy and begin your journey towards a pain-free life today?