When shoulder pain just won’t go away
Shoulder impingement is a very common cause of shoulder pain, where a tendon (band of tissue) inside your shoulder rubs or catches on nearby tissue and bone as you lift your arm.
It affects the rotator cuff tendon, which is the rubbery tissue that connects the muscles around your shoulder joint to the top of your arm.
An impinging shoulder will often improve in a few weeks or months, especially with the right type of shoulder exercises, but occasionally it can be an ongoing problem and a few people may need surgery.
Shoulder impingement can start suddenly or come on gradually. Symptoms include pain in the top and outer side of your shoulder, pain that’s worse when you lift your arm, especially when you lift it above your head, pain or aching at night, which can affect your sleep and/or weakness in your arm.
Your shoulder won’t usually be stiff. If it is, you might have a frozen shoulder instead.
When to get medical help
See your GP if you have shoulder pain that doesn’t go away after a few weeks or is stopping you from doing your normal activities.
Your GP will look at your shoulder and ask you to move your arm in different ways to see how easily you can move it and if movement makes the pain worse.
They may suggest some treatments you can try or refer you to a physiotherapist for treatment advice. You probably won’t need to go to hospital for any scans.
You can also go straight to a physiotherapist without seeing your GP, but you might need to pay.
Avoid things that make the pain worse–avoid activities that involve repeatedly lifting your arm above your head (such as swimming or playing tennis) for a few days or weeks. Ask your GP or physiotherapist when you can restart these activities.
Don’t stop moving your arm completely – try to carry on with your normal daily activities as much as possible so your shoulder doesn’t become weak or stiff. It’s usually best to avoid using a sling.
Hold an ice pack (or a bag of ice cubes or frozen vegetables) to your shoulder for around 20 minutes several times a day – but don’t put it directly on your skin, wrap it in a towel first.
Take painkillers – anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as ibuprofen) or paracetamol may help. Your GP can prescribe stronger painkillers if needed.