The symptoms of shoulder impingement can vary from person-to-person, but tend to arise gradually over days, weeks, and months.

Shoulder Pain and Other Symptoms

People with shoulder impingement often report:

  • Pinching pain during certain movements. A pinching sensation at the top of the shoulder may be felt during:
    • Overhead activities, such as reaching for something on an upper shelf in a closet or kitchen
    • Throwing, such as when pitching a baseball or serving a tennis ball
    • Reaching behind the back to zip or button a shirt or dress
    • Sleeping on the stomach, with arms out to the side or above the head
  • Decreased range of motion, that may limit everyday activities. It may be difficult and painful to raise the arm.
  • Radiating pain, usually from the shoulder to the side of the upper arm. This pain usually occurs during and after lifting and overhead movements. It some cases, pain may move further down the arm (usually not past the elbow) or up into the neck.
  • Intermittent pain in and around the shoulder. This pain may come and go with certain activities and may become more frequent over time.
  • Pain at night, especially while lying on the affected side.
  • A feeling of weakness in the shoulder, even when it is not being used. When in use, the shoulder may feel as if it is about to give out.
  • Swelling or tenderness. In some cases, the affected shoulder may appear bigger than the unaffected shoulder and be tender to the touch.

A person with shoulder impingement may experience one or all of these symptoms. For example, one person may report constant pain while working out or trying to fall asleep. Another may only feel pain when reaching overhead. When and how a person experiences pain is often dependent on a person’s activity level and any underlying issues that are causing the impingement.

Dr. Brian Lee is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the treatment of elbow and shoulder conditions at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute at Cedars Sinai. Dr. Lee has authored research papers, abstracts, and book chapters in the field of shoulder and elbow surgery.