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Why does it hurt when I reach overhead?

Superior shoulder pain that is recreated when reaching above shoulder height is often diagnosed as shoulder impingement. There is naturally some compression in the shoulder when lifting your arm overhead. The cause for the irritation and resulting inflammation was not due to simple compression but due to inflammation and irritation of the tendons/ structures that pass through the subacromion space. The most popular of these tendons are your rotator cuff tendons which help facilitate lifting your arm overhead.

Shoulder impingement syndrome is most commonly seen in individuals who are involved in sports and other activities with a lot of overhead rotational motion – like swimming, baseball, volleyball and tennis as well as things such as window washing and painting. Shoulder impingement can also result from an injury, such as a fall onto an outstretched arm or directly onto the shoulder.

Symptoms usually develop gradually over weeks to months. Complaints often include:

  • Pain when lying on the affected side.

  • Pain or achiness at night, which affects your ability to sleep.

  • Pain when reaching behind your back, like reaching into a back pocket or zipping up a zipper.

  • Shoulder and/or arm weakness and stiffness.

Physical therapy often addresses stiff muscles and you’ll learn stretching exercises to improve the range of motion of your shoulder. As your pain lessens, you can begin strengthening exercises to improve your rotator cuff muscles. We will also evaluate the surrounding structures like the cervical and thoracic spine, and shoulder blade. Movement patterns in these can ultimately affect the subacromial space thereby increasing the compression on the tendons. Making improvements in how you lift your arm overhead thereby increasing the subacromial space can lead to a decrease in the stimulus that is causing your pain.

Give us a call today to see what we can do for your shoulder health.

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