Shoulder impingement exercises are one of the best ways to treat impingement syndrome.
Impingement syndrome is the most common cause of shoulder pain, affect around 1 in 5 people, most commonly starting in middle age between the ages of 45-65.
Shoulder impingement syndrome develops when there is narrowing of the gap between the shoulder blade and shoulder bone, known as the subacromial space. This may be from bone spurs, bursitis or shoulder instability.
In most cases of shoulder impingement there is weakness, tightness and poor control around the shoulder which affects how the shoulder joint moves. This increases the pressure and friction through the rotator cuff tendons which leads to swelling and/or causing pain when raising the arm.
One of the best ways to treat impingement is with shoulder impingement exercises to restore the normal movement, strength and control and reduce the friction on the rotator cuff.
Before starting shoulder impingement exercises, it’s really important to know if impingement syndrome is actually your problem, as there are a number of other common shoulder problems that present similarly.
Common symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome are:
You can find out lots more about the causes, symptoms and treatment in the shoulder impingement article.
There are two simple tests you can do at home, either by yourself or with some assistance, to see if you do have shoulder impingement syndrome:
Pain across the top or at the front of the shoulder indicates a positive test for shoulder impingement.
Pain in any of these three positions indicates shoulder impingement syndrome.
If neither of these tests causes your pain, then it is very unlikely that you have impingement syndrome in which case visit the shoulder pain diagnosis section for help working out what is wrong.
Shoulder impingement exercises aim to restore the normal movement at the shoulder by regaining strength, stability and mobility. When this is achieved, the shoulder will be able to move freely without excessive friction and pressure on the rotator cuff.
The best shoulder impingement exercise programs will focus on three different areas of exercises:
It is really important that shoulder impingement exercises target each three of these areas if you want to make a full recovery and to ensure that the problem doesn’t return.
In most cases of shoulder impingement, the main issue tends to be pain rather than restriction of movement, but if your movement is severely limited, start with pendulum and active assisted exercises in the shoulder mobility section first and then come back to these shoulder impingement exercises later.
Scapular stability exercises for shoulder impingement are the best place to start for pretty much anyone with impingement syndrome. Poor control around the scapula affects how the shoulder blade moves and shifts it out of position which reduced the subacromial space at the top of the shoulder, the primary cause of impingement syndrome. Without good scapular control, anytime you lift your arm you risk pinching the rotator cuff tendons and causing tearing and inflammation.
Shoulder impingement exercises targeting scapula stability all start by getting the shoulder blade in the right place and activating the lower traps – the key stabilising muscles of the scapula. This helps draw the shoulder blade down and back, opening up the subacromial space and reducing shoulder impingement. Scapular setting exercises can be done in any position.
Top Tips: 1. Imagine a piece of string tied to the bottom corner of your shoulder blade, pulling it towards the opposite back pocket of your trousers
2. The main bulk of the work should come from the lower traps in the area between the lower third of the scapula and the shoulder blade.
There are a whole load of possible variations with this shoulder impingement exercise. By changing the arm position, you can gradually challenge the scapular stabilizers to work harder in more functional positions which can really help improve activities of daily living with shoulder impingement
Progressions: You can add in various progressions as you maintain the scapula squeeze
1. Lift the hand up off the bed
2. Pulse the arm up and down as you hold
3. Add a weight
4. Change your arm position – e.g. “W” & “Y” positions - Find Out More >
Wall press ups are one of my favorite shoulder impingement exercises as they are a great way to get back to doing press ups without aggravating your impingement as you aren’t taking all your body-weight through your shoulders.
Progression: Vary your hand position (higher, lower, closer together, further apart) to work the muscles in different positions for greater strength
You can find loads more shoulder blade exercises for shoulder impingement in the scapular stabilization exercises section.
With stretching exercises for shoulder impingement, you want to start out gently. Initially, hold each stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-20 times, but the gradually aim to increase how long you hold the stretch for. As you hold for longer, you can reduce the number of repetitions, aiming to get to a 30 second hold, repeated 3 times.
Elbows flares are a great exercise for shoulder impingement as they help to stretch out joint capsule, and ensure the shoulder joint sits correctly in its socket.
The doorway stretch is one of my favorite shoulder impingement exercises as you can change the position of your arms to make it work best for you.
Hanging from a pull up bar can be a very useful exercise with shoulder impingement as it really helps to open up the space in the joint and reduces pressure and compression on the soft tissues. Some people absolutely swear by it, but it’s not for everyone and does require good range of movement in the shoulder. Chances are, you haven’t done anything like this since swinging on monkey bars as a child, so it’s going to be a challenge and will take time, so take it easy! You might want to come back to this one in a few weeks.
Progressions: 1. Once you feel confident holding this position for 30 seconds, you can try lifting one leg up off the floor, just for a few seconds at first. Again start with small doses and gradually build up e.g. you might lift one leg for 5 seconds, have both legs down for 20 seconds then lift the other leg for 5 seconds and so on
2. Once you can comfortably keep one foot lifted for at least 30 seconds, the final progression is to lift both feet. Again start by doing this just for a few seconds and then put one or both feet down, and gradually hold it for longer as you build your endurance.
Modifications: If you don’t have a pull up bar, you can do a modified version using a door, provided it is sturdy enough! You won’t be able to fully hang, but you can certainly provide some traction through your shoulders to open up the joint and release the impingement.
NB keep the door straddled between your legs throughout as you don't want it to move!
There are lots of other stretching exercises that can help with shoulder impingement – check out the
Rotator cuff strengthening exercises for shoulder impingement are a really important part of rehab as it is the rotator cuff that control how the upper arm moves. Weakness in the rotator cuff is common with impingement syndrome which puts the tendons at increased risk of damage.
Resistance bands, such as theraband, are a really useful tool with shoulder impingement exercises for improving rotator cuff strength without aggravating the damaged tendon. You can control how much resistance there is from the band by changing where you hold it and they are safer, cheaper and more portable than weights – check out this article on Resistance Bands vs Weights. There are loads of different ways of using resistance bands but here are my favourites for treating shoulder impingement.
Doing external shoulder rotation with a resistance band combines rotator cuff strengthening and scapula strengthening making it a great shoulder impingement exercise.
Progressions: 1. Hold the band closer to the door handle to increase the resistance
2. Add some small pulses at the end part of the movement before returning to the starting position
Top Tips: 1. Some people find it helps to have a small folded towel between their elbow and waist and to squeeze the towel during the exercise
2. You can always anchor the other end of the band by holding it in your other hand if you don’t have anything to tie it to
Rowing shoulder impingement exercises works the rotator cuff, posterior deltoid, lower traps and triceps all at the same time
Progressions: 1. Add some end range pulses
2. Hold the rowing position and then straighten and bend your elbows to work your triceps
3. Take up more slack in the band so you have to pull harder
Shoulder taps is a challenging shoulder impingement exercise that works not only the rotator cuff and scapular stabilisers, but also your core. You are aiming for slow, controlled movement rather than speed.
Progressions: 1. Hold the shoulder tap position for a few seconds before lowering the arm
2. Perform a mini press up between each shoulder tap
3. Gradually move the starting position of your hands further forwards
Top Tips: 1. Don’t let the body twist or the shoulders drop as you move the arm
2. Keep your core muscles engaged and breathe normally throughout
Here I have shared with you my favourite shoulder impingement exercises, the ones I find tend to be most beneficial, but there are loads more exercises that can help.
These shoulder impingement exercises are a great way to recover from impingement syndrome and get back to the things you love but don’t expect instant results. It may take 6-12 weeks, sometimes even longer, to get the full benefits from your shoulder impingement exercises during which time you shoulder avoid:
With shoulder impingement syndrome it is really important to allow the damaged tendons time to heal, so if something hurts, don’t do it or else you are just slowing down the healing process. You might find that by changing your position, you can do the activity in a slightly different way without impingement pain, but if not, skip it.
If after three months of doing these shoulder impingement exercises you still aren’t seeing any improvement, talk to your doctor. It might be that there is a structural issue such as bone spurs that may require subacromial decompression surgery.
Remember, these exercises may feel difficult at first but they shouldn’t hurt. If any of them do, skip them for a couple of weeks and then try again.
Shoulder impingement exercises are one of the most effective treatments for impingement syndrome but there are lots of other things that can help alongside such as ice, medication, improving posture and steroid injections – find out more about shoulder impingement treatment.
Shoulder impingement is the most common cause of shoulder pain, but there are lots of other things that can go wrong. If you want some help working out what is wrong, visit the shoulder pain diagnosis section or check out our article on common causes of shoulder pain. You may also be interested in the following articles:
Page Last Updated: 29/03/2022
Next Review Due: 29/03/2024