Shoulder impingement sometimes referred to as swimmer's shoulder can be a painful and debilitating condition for anybody who suffers from it. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments that can alleviate the pain, discomfort and loss of mobility that shoulder impingement can cause.
A relatively new treatment technique known as shockwave therapy can be an effective and minimally invasive way to treat shoulder impingement.
What Is Shoulder Impingement?
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body and relies on a network of tendons and ligaments to give it stability and mobility. One of these tendons, called the supraspinatus tendon, connects the top of the arm to the shoulder blade in your upper back. To do so, it must pass through a space between the shoulder joint and shoulder blade, known as the subacromial space.
If the subacromial space in your shoulder is smaller than it needs to be, or your supraspinatus tendon is swollen and inflamed, this space can close on the supraspinatus tendon when you move your shoulder in certain ways. Your subacromial space may be too small due to genetic factors, or bone spurs caused by repeated shoulder injuries. Supraspinatus tendons can become inflamed due to injury, infection or overuse.
Once the subacromial space starts to pinch the supraspinatus tendon, a negative feedback loop begins. As the space pinches and damages the tendon, it becomes more inflamed and swollen, which in turn makes the pinching worse. Shoulder impingement occurs when this cycle of injury starts to affect comfort and mobility in your shoulder.
Shoulder impingement is generally most painful when you raise your arm above your head, but the pain can spread to other parts of the shoulder as the condition worsens. It can also make it difficult to sleep on the affected shoulder. Severe pain when you raise your arm can obviously limit mobility in the affected shoulder, and if the impingement goes untreated, the tendon can become permanently damaged.
How Can Shockwave Therapy Treat Shoulder Impingement?
Shoulder impingement syndrome can be treated with physical therapy, steroid injections and painkillers, which can reduce pain and inflammation and allow the tendon to heal naturally. If the subacromial space is too small, you may need minor surgery to remove bone growth around the tendon and widen the subacromial space.
Shockwave therapy is frequently used alongside these mainline treatments and can be an alternative to more invasive treatment methods if the impingement is not too severe.
During shockwave therapy, a trained healthcare provider places a wand-line instrument on the skin over the affected shoulder joint. This wand is attached to a compressed air supply, and intermittently releases 'pulses' of compressed air towards the skin, creating tiny shockwaves.
These shockwaves pass through the skin and into the supraspinatus tendon and subacromial space. The mild disturbance caused by these shockwaves prompts the body to send additional blood flow and healing factors towards the damaged tendon, speeding the natural healing process and reducing inflammation and pain.
The shockwaves also disrupt the formation of scar tissue in the supraspinatus tendon and subacromial space. This prevents the tendon from losing mobility and keeps the subacromial space from closing further due to scar tissue and bone spur formation. As result, shockwave therapy provides long term benefits on top of immediate treatment, making shoulder impingement less likely to occur in the future.