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Shoulder Impingement Syndrome


Shoulder pain can make simple chores almost impossible.  Have you ever reached for an object high on a shelf only to have pain that takes your breath away?  What causes shoulder pain when reaching across the body?  What is shoulder impingement?  What does shoulder impingement feel like?  Can a shoulder X-ray show shoulder impingement?  What are the treatment options for shoulder pain when reaching across the body?  Let’s dig in.

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt When I Reach Across My Body?

Shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries are among the most common causes of shoulder pain (1).  Both can cause shoulder pain when reaching across the body.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement is a painful condition in which the bursa and muscles of the shoulder are pinched or compressed.  This occurs in any area called the subacromial space which is immediately beneath the AC joint.  This area contains the rotator cuff tendons and bursae and is identified by the red in the illustration below (2).  A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that reduces the friction on tendons and muscles as they cross boney surfaces.  A tendon is a thick collagen tissue that connects muscles to bones. The rotator cuff tendons provide important support and enable movement in the shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

There are four rotator cuff tendons:  supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor.  Injuries can include inflammation of the tendon called tendonitis and tears in the tendon.  Tears can be partial thickness where they only involve a portion of the tendon or full-thickness when they involve the entire tendon.  If the tendon fibers pull apart from one another this is called a retraction.  Rotator cuff tears are common and the incidence increases with age.  A recent large study demonstrated a prevalence of rotator cuff abnormalities of 9.7% in patients younger than 20 which increased to 62% in patients aged 80 and older (3).  Factors that increase your risk for RC tears include advancing age, hand dominance (4), and smoking (5). Learn more about our non-surgical rotator cuff tear treatment.

What Does Shoulder Impingement Feel Like?

Pain is the most common symptom.  It typically occurs with the elevation of the arm, forced movement overhead, and when lying on the shoulder.  Impingement can also cause shoulder pain when reaching across the body.

Arm Pain at Night

Arm pain at night can be miserable.  The pain can interrupt your sleep and erode your quality of life. Irritability becomes increasingly more common.  What are the causes?  When should I worry about it?  What are the treatment options for arm pain at night? The neck is composed of 7 boney building blocks numbered 1- 7. Sandwiched between the bones is a disc that functions as an important shock absorber. The cervical discs are susceptible to injury due to trauma, degeneration, repetitive motion, and surgery. Common disc injuries include disc bulges, and herniations. The injured disc can compress or irritate one or more nerves resulting in arm pain at night. It can…

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Left Shoulder Blade Pain

Learn to know the symptoms and causes of shoulder blade pain as well as the diagnostic tests to run for it and its treatment options. Shoulder blade pain can be a common, annoying, hard to diagnose problem. There are many different causes of shoulder blade pain and the exact cause of the shoulder blade pain will determine what type of treatments would be recommended.

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Muscle Spasm In Shoulder

A muscle spasm, also known as a muscle cramp, is a sudden and involuntary contraction or tightening of a muscle or group of muscles. This can occur in any part of the body but is most commonly experienced in the legs, arms, and back. These spasms can last for a few seconds up to many minutes. Occasional muscle spasms may not be something to worry about, but chronic muscle spasms can be a serious issue. In the shoulder, there are many muscles that can go into spasm. These spasms or cramps can cause pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.

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Shoulder Cracking

The Scapula is your shoulder blade. It is a large triangular bone that compromises part of the shoulder joint. The Scapula is positioned over the back chest wall and ribs where it moves in different directions with shoulder movements (1). The Scapula meets with the arm bone (humerus) to form the shoulder joint. It also meets with the clavicle to form the AC joint. Multiple structures attach onto the Scapula which provides important support and movement for the scapulae and shoulder joint (2). These include:- Muscles/Tendons: Multiple muscles attach to the Scapula which include the deltoid, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, triceps, and teres minor.

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Shoulder Joint Pain

Shoulder joint pain is the third most common reason that people see their primary care physician (1). It is commonly experienced by people who use their hands overhead a lot, particularly in occupations such as painting and construction. Individuals who train with repetitive overhead movements, such as tennis players, swimmers, and basketball players, are also prone to develop shoulder joint pain. The symptoms and progression of pain in the shoulder joint can vary from person to person, depending on what is causing it. We’ll discuss the causes of shoulder pain, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.

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Shoulder Pain When Reaching Across Body

Shoulder pain can make simple chores almost impossible.  Have you ever reached for an object high on a shelf only to have pain that takes your breath away?  What causes shoulder pain when reaching across the body?  What is shoulder impingement?  What does shoulder impingement feel like?  Can a shoulder X-ray show shoulder impingement?  What are the treatment options for shoulder pain when reaching across the body? ulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries are among the most common causes of shoulder pain (1).  Both can cause shoulder pain when reaching across the body. Shoulder impingement is a painful condition in which the bursa and muscles of the shoulder are pinched or compressed. 

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Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

There are several reasons why shoulder pain at night occurs or is aggravated; The common explanations include: Sleep typically involves a static position lasting hours at a time with little or no movement. Sleeping on your side places additional pressure on the tendons and bursa of the shoulder. Sleep can cause muscles and tendons to settle in a slightly different position resulting in additional pressure and reduced blood flow. Identifying the underlying problem is important!  This allows therapy to focus exclusively on the exact problem or problems.  When appropriate conservative care is always the first line of treatment.  Focus is typically on strengthening and improving range of motion. 

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Why Does My Shoulder Hurt When I Lift My Arm?

Shoulder pain can be very non-specific, meaning that multiple structures and issues can cause identical pain in the shoulder. Most shoulder examination maneuvers are very limited in their ability to assess exactly what the problem is.  With pain when lifting your shoulder, it is critical to take a detailed history, good examination, coupled with imaging to fully understand what is causing the shoulder pain.  Many conditions can present with these symptoms

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What is the Cause of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

Narrowing of the subacromial space is the most common cause of shoulder impingement syndrome (6).  The subacromial space is the area between the top of the arm bone (humerus) and the AC joint.   This narrowing compresses or pinches the rotator cuff tendons and bursa.  If left untreated the rotator cuff tendons can become inflamed, damaged, and or torn.

Causes of  Subacromial Space Narrowing

  • Inflammation or injury of the AC joint
  • Instability of the AC joint
  • Increase in the rotator cuff volume due to inflammation or injury.
  • Ligament thickening
  • Muscular imbalance

Can an X-ray Show Shoulder Impingement?

No!  X-ray images bone only.  Bursa and tendons can not be seen on x-ray.  An x-ray may demonstrate arthritis and or a bone spur on the AC joint which can narrow the subacromial space which in turn can potentially compress or pinch the rotator cuff tendons.  An MRI is a much better imaging choice as it visualizes bone, ligaments, rotator cuff, and bursa.  An MRI can identify shoulder impingement.

Treatment Options

Conservative Care

Conservative care is the initial treatment of choice if no major damage is present.  Options include immobilization, muscular strengthening, physical therapy, ultrasound, acupuncture, and manual therapy.

Steroid Injections

Steroid injections are often recommended as they are powerful anti-inflammatory agents.  These should be avoided as steroids are toxic to orthopedic tissue and may compromise rotator cuff tendon strength and healing. (7)


Surgery is often recommended when conservative treatment fails.  The most common surgery for impingement is subacromial decompression where part of the AC joint and bursae are cut away.  Unfortunately, the supporting shoulder ligaments are also cut away thereby making the shoulder unstable.  New research involving 32 hospitals, 51 surgeons, and more than 300 patients in the United Kingdom demonstrated that decompression surgery is no more effective than a placebo (8).  To better understand the consequences of decompression surgery please click on the video below.

Platelet Rich Plasma and Stem Cells

PRP is useful in the treatment of shoulder impingement (9).   At the Centeno-Schultz Clinic, we have extensive experience in the treatment of shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tears. The instability of the AC joint and shoulder can be treated with ultrasound-guided injections of both PRP and bone marrow concentrate containing stem cells.    Mesenchymal stem cells are a type of cell found in your body including bone marrow and fat.  They are an all-purpose repairman of the body and these cells have the ability to help tendon injuries heal (10).  We published the world’s first research paper on the use of bone marrow concentrate cells on patients with rotator cuff tears with and without arthritis (11).  We demonstrated excellent results characterized by a reduction in pain and increase in function after bone marrow concentrate injections.

In Conclusion

Shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries are among the most common causes of shoulder pain when reaching across the body.  Shoulder impingement is a painful condition in which the bursa and muscles of the shoulder are pinched or compressed. This is typically caused by the narrowing of the subacromial space in which shoulder pain when reaching across the body is common. An X-ray may suggest shoulder impingement but MRI is a better imaging choice.  Treatment includes conservative care.  Steroids should be avoided.   Subacromial decompression is a common surgery that is no better than a placebo.  PRP and bone marrow concentrate injections are effective, nonsurgical treatment options for shoulder impingement.

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Our Doctors Who Assist With Shoulder Impingement

Christopher J. Centeno, MD

Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in Interventional Orthopedics and the clinical use of bone marrow concentrate in orthopedics. He is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with a subspecialty of pain medicine through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Centeno is one of the few physicians in the world with extensive experience in the culture expansion of and clinical use of adult bone marrow concentrate to treat orthopedic injuries. His clinic incorporates a variety of revolutionary pain management techniques to bring its broad patient base relief and results. Dr. Centeno treats patients from all over the US who…

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John Schultz, MD

John R. Schultz M.D. is a national expert and specialist in Interventional Orthopedics and the clinical use of bone marrow concentrate for orthopedic injuries. He is board certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine and underwent fellowship training in both. Dr. Schultz has extensive experience with same day as well as culture expanded bone marrow concentrate and sees patients at the CSC Broomfield, Colorado Clinic, as well the Regenexx Clinic in Grand Cayman. Dr. Schultz emphasis is on the evaluation and treatment of thoracic and cervical disc, facet, nerve, and ligament injuries including the non-surgical treatment of Craniocervical instability (CCI). Dr. Schultz trained at George Washington School of…

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John Pitts, M.D.

Dr. Pitts is originally from Chicago, IL but is a medical graduate of Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, TN. After Vanderbilt, he completed a residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. The focus of PM&R is the restoration of function and quality of life. In residency, he gained much experience in musculoskeletal medicine, rehabilitation, spine, and sports medicine along with some regenerative medicine. He also gained significant experience in fluoroscopically guided spinal procedures and peripheral injections. However, Dr. Pitts wanted to broaden his skills and treatment options beyond the current typical standards of care.

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Jason Markle, D.O.

Post-residency, Dr. Markle was selected to the Interventional Orthopedic Fellowship program at the Centeno-Schultz Clinic. During his fellowship, he gained significant experience in the new field of Interventional Orthopedics and regenerative medicine, honing his skills in advanced injection techniques into the spine and joints treating patients with autologous, bone marrow concentrate and platelet solutions. Dr. Markle then accepted a full-time attending physician position at the Centeno-Schultz Clinic, where he both treats patients and trains Interventional Orthopedics fellows. Dr. Markle is an active member of the Interventional Orthopedic Foundation and serves as a course instructor, where he trains physicians from around the world.

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Brandon T. Money, D.O., M.S.

Dr. Money is an Indiana native who now proudly calls Colorado home. He attended medical school at Kansas City University and then returned to Indiana to complete a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency program at Indiana University, where he was trained on non-surgical methods to improve health and function as well as rehabilitative care following trauma, stroke, spinal cord injury, brain injury, etc. Dr. Money has been following the ideology behind Centeno-Schultz Clinic and Regenexx since he was in medical school, as he believed there had to be a better way to care for patients than the status quo. The human body has incredible healing capabilities…

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Other Resources for Shoulder Pain

  • How To Release A Pinched Nerve In The Shoulder

    A pinched nerve in the shoulder occurs when a nerve is compressed or irritated anywhere along its path, from the nerve root where it emerges from the cervical spine to the area in the shoulder it supplies. This can lead to shoulder pain, numbness, and pins and needles, and can even affect the movement of…

  • Treatment For A Torn Rotator Cuff Without Surgery: Exploring Your Options

    Welcome to the Guide for Rotator Cuff Tear Relief Without Surgery. Rotator cuff injuries affect millions of people globally (1). The incidence vastly increases with age. Irrespective of the cause, there are many treatment options for rotator cuff injuries apart from surgery. If you want to avoid rotator cuff surgery, you’re in the right place!…

  • When Not to have Rotator Cuff Surgery? Know Your Options

    It happened as you were playing racketball. There was loud pop followed by immediate pain. Moving your shoulder is almost impossible. What is the rotator cuff? What causes rotator cuff tears? What is rotator cuff surgery? When not to have rotator cuff surgery? Let’s dig in.What Is the Rotator Cuff? (4 Tendons) The rotator cuff…

  • KT Tape Shoulder: Facts You Need to Know!

    KT Tape is used extensively for shoulder injuries. Dr. Schultz discusses what KT tape is, what it is used for, how it helps shoulder pain, whether it really works and a better solution.

  • Rotater Cuff Tear Surgery

    Shoulder Pain Shoulder pain can come in many different forms and be caused by many different issues. Many structures exist in a small area making it more difficult to accurately diagnose what is causing pain without spending appropriate time to diagnose the issue. Common causes of shoulder pain include shoulder arthritis, acromioclavicular (AC) joint sprain…

  • MRI Images Showing Torn Rotator Cuff

    What Is the Rotator Cuff? The Rotator Cuff is a group of 4 principal muscles that stabilize and support the shoulder joint. The four muscles, and their attached tendons that comprise the Rotator Cuff are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor, and any of these could be where we could find Rotator Cuff tears.…

  1. Cohen RB, Williams GR: Impingement syndrome and rotator cuff disease as repetitive motion disorders. Clin Orthop 351: 95-101, 1998

2. Ludewig PM, Braman JP. Shoulder impingement: biomechanical considerations in rehabilitation. Man Ther. 2011;16(1):33-9. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2010.08.004

3..Teunis T, Lubberts B, Reilly BT, Ring D. A systematic review and pooled analysis of the prevalence of rotator cuff disease with increasing age. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2014;23:1913–1921.DOI: 10.1016/j.jse.2014.08.001.

4. Yamamoto A, Takagishi K, Osawa T, Yanagawa T, Nakajima D, Shitara H, Kobayashi T. Prevalence and risk factors of a rotator cuff tear in the general population. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2010;19:116–120.

5. Baumgarten KM, Gerlach D, Galatz LM, Teefey SA, Middleton WD, Ditsios K, Yamaguchi K. Cigarette smoking increases the risk for rotator cuff tears. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2010;468:1534–1541. DOI: 10.1007/s11999-009-0781-2

6.Garving C, Jakob S, Bauer I, Nadjar R, Brunner UH. Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017;114(45):765–776. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0765

  1. Wei AS, Callaci JJ, Juknelis D, et al. The effect of corticosteroid on collagen expression in injured rotator cuff tendon. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006;88(6):1331–1338. doi:10.2106/JBJS.E.00806
  2. Beard DJ, Rees JL, Cook JA, et al. Arthroscopic subacromial decompression for subacromial shoulder pain (CSAW): a multicentre, pragmatic, parallel group, placebo-controlled, three-group, randomised surgical trial. Lancet. 2018;391(10118):329-38.DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32457-1
  3. Pasin T, Ataoğlu S, Pasin Ö, Ankarali H. Comparison of the Effectiveness of Platelet-Rich Plasma, Corticosteroid, and Physical Therapy in Subacromial Impingement Syndrome. Arch Rheumatol. 2019;34(3):308-16.DOI: 10.5606/ArchRheumatol.2019.7225
  4. Costa-Almeida R, Calejo I, Gomes ME. Mesenchymal Stem Cells Empowering Tendon Regenerative Therapies. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(12):3002. Published 2019 Jun 19. doi:10.3390/ijms20123002
  5. Centeno CJ, Al-Sayegh H, Bashir J, Goodyear S, Freeman MD. A prospective multi-site registry study of a specific protocol of autologous bone marrow concentrate for the treatment of shoulder rotator cuff tears and osteoarthritis. J Pain Res. 2015;8:269–276. Published 2015 Jun 5. doi:10.2147/JPR.S80872

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