Rehabilitation & Recovery

5 Shoulder Impingement Exercises For Pain Free Shoulder Movements

Shoulder Impingement Exercises

People often prefer using the term “shoulder pain” instead of shoulder impingement syndrome. This is mainly because it clarifies what they are trying to explain. Subacromial impingement syndrome, sometimes called swimmer’s shoulder, is the medical term that represents the presence of shoulder pain in human beings and is a very common condition.

Proper treatment can comprise of anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, applying ice packs or exercise therapy. However, not all exercises are beneficial for this syndrome with some even exacerbating symptoms.

In this article we look in to more detail at this common shoulder condition and suggest some exercises that may help to alleviate pain and discomfort.

What is Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

shoulder impingement anatomy

Shoulder impingement is a condition whereby the rotator cuff tendons rub against the shoulder blades resulting in pain. Your shoulder joint is the most active joint in the body and equal muscle strength across the deltoids and rotator cuff is important to provide sufficient stability.

It’s not uncommon for the deltoids to be a more dominant muscle which can result in a weakness to the rotator cuff muscles. This means when performing certain repetitive movements, such as sweeping the floor or performing a shoulder press exercise, the rotator cuff can tire much quicker when compared to the deltoids.

Whilst shoulder impingement symptoms aren’t immediately noticeable, several days post activity you may notice a sharp pain, swelling or discomfort to the top of the shoulder, specifically affecting the rotator cuff tendons, biceps tendon or the bursae. If the issue is not addressed, it can lead to other shoulder injuries such as a rotator cuff tear or tendonitis.

However, the good news is that by incorporating exercises to specifically strengthen the rotator cuff, you may lessen the chance of developing this condition.

Five Best Shoulder Impingement Exercises

By performing the following exercises on a daily basis is the best way to help strengthen the rotator cuff and ward off any shoulder pain complaints. You can do these exercises at any time and wherever you like.

It’s important to note that before moving on to strengthening exercises you’ll want to address the initial pain. Discontinue normal activities that could be aggravating the condition and spend around 24 to 48 hours apply ice packs to the affected area. This may help to reduce inflammation and therefore diminish some of the associated pain.

Shoulder Squeezes

Performing shoulder squeezes daily can encourage good posture and can be done anywhere at home or even work. You can even undertake this exercise several times per day.

  1. Take a seat and keep your feet flat on the ground with knees and hips at 90 degrees angles.
  2. Keep your back straight and relax your shoulders.
  3. Slowly retract your scapula by pushing your shoulders back and down.
  4. You should feel a good stretch across the anterior delts.
  5. Hold for a few seconds then release. Repeat 5 to 10 repetitions.

Wall Slides

Wall slides are a good range-of-motion exercise that should be done against a smooth wall or mirror as you need to able to slide your hands up and down. You can progress this exercise by no longer using the wall for support and holding on to a light free weight such as a dumbbell or kettlebell.

  1. Start by facing the wall and place the edges of your hands on the wall just above shoulder height. Your thumbs should be facing you.
  2. Take a step and slide both hands up the wall as far as is comfortable.
  3. Hold briefly before returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 8 repetitions.

Wall Push Ups

By performing push ups against the wall, you can help with shoulder mobility, posture and balance. Another ideal home-based exercise that can be performed regularly. You can progress this exercise by stepping further away from the wall and increasing the active range of motion.

  1. Stand in front of a wall so that your feet are around 1 foot away.
  2. Place your hands flat on the wall as if you are about to perform a regular push up.
  3. Your hands should be positioned at shoulder height and just beyond shoulder width apart with fingers pointing out slightly.
  4. Your elbows should be positioned below your shoulders. This is your starting position.
  5. Keeping your chest and head up with a straight back, lower your body towards the wall.
  6. Hold briefly before pushing through your palms back to the start.
  7. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Seated Shoulder Rotation

The shoulder rotation exercise will help to increase range of motion to the shoulder joint and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Once the exercise becomes easier, you can make it a little more challenging by holding on to a light weight.

  1. Sit next to a table and support your elbow on a rolled-up towel.
  2. Keep your back straight with head and chest up throughout.
  3. Make a fist and slowly bend at the elbow joint and bring your forearm upwards.
  4. Return to the start and repeat for 20 repetitions.
  5. Switch arms and repeat.

Standing Shoulder Rotation

The standing shoulder rotation is a variation of the seated version where you’ll make use of a resistance band with a handle. This is a great isometric exercise for strengthening the external rotators.

  1. Anchor the end of a resistance band to a door and ensure it’s around waist height.
  2. Place a rolled-up towel under the elbow of the arm holding the band.
  3. Stand side on to the door and grip the band with the hand furthest away from the door.
  4. Slowly externally rotate your arm outwards as far as possible. You should not feel any pain.
  5. Return back to the start and repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps before switching arms.

Causes Of Shoulder Impingement

Below are the most likely causes of shoulder impingement.


The most common cause of shoulder pain is overuse. More likely to occur in those who weightlift due to the high number of repetitions performed with a weight load. Incorrect form of exercises such as the shoulder press or lateral raise can further increase the likelihood of such problems.

Poor Posture

Poor posture is very common and usually down to inactivity and the sedentary lifestyles we typically lead. Poor posture usually results in internal rotation of the shoulders, leading to a hunched over appearance of the upper back. This is known as kyphosis. Whilst not a direct cause of shoulder pain, if posture issues are not addressed, it can lead to such problems in the future.

Bodybuilders can often suffer from poor posture due to muscle imbalances whereby overdevelopment of the pectorals lead to rounding of the thoracic spine.

A way to test if limiting posture could be an issue is to take your arm overhead. Simply raise your arm up and out in front of you. If it becomes uncomfortable or the shoulder muscles feel tight the higher you raise your arm, then you may want to look at method so of improving your posture.

Wear & Tear

As we age it’s common for muscles and tendons to simply wear over time. This wear and tear can make shoulder impingement issues more likely due to a weakening of the muscles, especially in those over 40 years of age. To avoid this, make sure to incorporate daily body weight exercises and stretches that help to increase mobility and flexibility to the joints.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are Shoulder Impingement Exercises Beneficial?

Yes. Shoulder impingement exercises are beneficial in many ways. They can alleviate shoulder pain and strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint making you less susceptible to injury. You can perform all the above suggested exercises either at home or in the gym with virtually no equipment required.

Should You Stop Heavy Lifting With Shoulder Impingement?

Heavy lifting requires a lot of shoulder function and mobility. This means it’s important to sustain from any such activity whilst you treat your shoulder.

What Groups Of Muscles Are Involved In Shoulder Impingement Syndrome?

Impingement occurs during abduction (raising) of the arm with the muscles involved being the supraspinatus of the rotator cuff, the bursa which is a fluid-filled sac which helps to limit friction to between tissues and the biceps muscle tendon.

What Is The Best Way To Get Rid Of Shoulder Impingement?

Once diagnosed by a physical therapist, regular undertaking of shoulder impingement exercises and stretches that specifically target the affected muscles can help to reduce pain in the short term. In the long term, when performed repeatedly, mobility and strength will increase making injury much less likely in the future.


Shoulder impingement syndrome can put a stop to many daily activities. However, once diagnosed by your health care provider and with proper treatment programs, painful symptoms can be reduced, and you can work your way towards building stronger shoulders.

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