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Shoulder Impingement: Everything You Need to Know

Dec 11, 2022

Shoulder impingement is a common reason for shoulder pain for many rock climbers. It is quite painful and can get worse over time when it remains untreated. So if you want to know more about this particular shoulder injury, let’s dive into it and understand what it is, how it happens, and how to deal with it. 

What is Shoulder Impingement?

You have an acromion, which is the bump you can find on your shoulder. It’s the top outer edge of your shoulder blades that form the acromioclavicular joint with your collarbone or clavicle. Whenever your supraspinatus tendon, which is one of your rotator cuff muscles, gets pinched between the bones, then that's what causes this impingement or this pinching sensation in your shoulder.

How Does Shoulder Impingement Develop?

Oftentimes, we develop what's called this climber’s back posture, where our shoulders will roll forward. It closes off what's called the subacromial space. This particular space is where this tendon goes through. So if it gets smaller, then that's when your shoulder pinches or gets impinged, especially when you start lifting your hand up above shoulder height. Keep in mind that shoulder impingement is important to get treated by a professional as early as possible to avoid getting worse. 

I am a physical therapist and I know what stretches to do. But if you are someone who just rests and sees if the impinged shoulder gets better, I can almost guarantee that 9 out of 10 times, it doesn’t get better. In most cases,  it can actually get worse. 

With shoulders -  if you don't use it, you lose it. Your shoulders are supposed to be very mobile, and you're supposed to be able to reach overhead and all sorts of stuff. But if you get injured, and you keep your shoulder in a sling for six weeks, you will lose range of motion permanently.

What is Adhesive Capsulitis? 

So imagine you have an injury where you stop using your arm because you're scared of making it worse. What ends up happening is you can develop what's called adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder. It means that because you're not using it, it's not turning on. When you have an injury and it's laying down scar tissue, the scar tissue will restrict more motion because it's trying to heal from the injury. 

What to Do With Shoulder Impingement?

If you get shoulder impingement, you definitely have to stretch. With the subacromial space in your shoulder that's getting pinched or causing the pinching of the supraspinatus tendon, you need to stretch the muscles around the shoulder to loosen it up and give yourself more space in that subacromial space. So stretching is the exercise I recommend doing for climbers who have shoulder impingement. 

Find a Physical Therapist

All of the climbers that I've worked with, and even those non-climbers that I know who have shoulder impingement, whenever they don't do anything about it, it ends up getting worse. So make sure to do something about it and even reach out to a physical therapist in your area, preferably one who works with rock climbers, as early as possible. 

If you need help finding someone in your area, please just let me know and I'll point you in the right direction. We all know that it's important to see a healthcare professional who understands or works with rock climbers to give you a better chance of getting you back to rock climbing. 

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