Recovery from shoulder impingement surgery

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a common source of shoulder pain in adults caused by pressure on the rotary cuff, a tendon linking muscles in the shoulder blade.

It usually affects athletes or middle-aged persons and can be caused by repetitive lifting or motions which require overhead lifting of the arm during sports, such as tennis or baseball. Initial treatment usually involves non-surgical procedures, but if these fail to relieve pain, shoulder impingement surgery is often advised. Your shoulder impingement recovery time after surgery will depend upon the severity of your condition and the type of surgery involved.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment of a shoulder impingement seeks to relieve the pain in the shoulder by creating more space for the rotary cuff to allow the humeral head to move more freely when lifting the arm overhead. Subacromial decompression or anterior acromioplasty are the most common surgical treatments performed on a shoulder impingement.

Decompression enlarges the space between the head of the humerus and the acromion (acromioplasty), while removal of the subacromial bursa--a lubricating sack which often becomes inflamed and causes pain--is called a bursectomy. When both procedures are required the surgery is call a subacromial decompression. Arthroscopic surgery (surgery through several small puncture wounds with the use of a fiberoptic scope and small surgical tools) is less invasive than open-wound surgery and usually has a shorter recovery period.

Post-Operative Recovery

After surgery, you may be tired or disoriented from the anaesthesia, with some patients experiencing nausea or other side effects. Your doctor may fit your shoulder with a pain pump or prescribe a pain medication to help ease the pain. Most surgeries will have you return home the same day, where you can use ice packs on the shoulder to help reduce swelling and eliminate discomfort. Your arm will be fixed with a sling to allow early healing to the site, usually worn for several days after surgery.

Discomfort from shoulder impingement surgery usually leaves within six weeks to three months, although for more severe cases it may last up to a year. Physiotherapy is usually begun the first or second week after surgery.


A rehabilitation program may be implemented depending upon the severity of the surgery and the individual patient's needs. Generally, a reduction of activity is recommended with an avoidance of any overhead movement until the more painful symptoms subside. Exercises for range of motion and shoulder and arm strengthening are part of the physiotherapy, which may take from two months to a year for complete pain relief. Physiotherapy may entail stretching exercises, weighted pendulum stretches, relaxation techniques, muscle strengthening workouts, outward rotation exercises and scapular squeezes.