Whether it starts as a small ache when you raise your arm or immediate pain after an injury, shoulder impingement syndrome can affect your athletic performance as well as your everyday life. Impingement syndrome, sometimes called swimmer’s or thrower’s shoulder, can cause considerable pain, muscle weakness and even loss of motion in the shoulder joint. Luckily, regular visits to a massage therapist can help reduce your symptoms and get back in the game.

Every time you move your arm, your shoulder tendons pass through a narrow space between your humorous and the tip of your scapula, a bony structure called the acromion. Anything that narrows this space can cause your tendons to get caught under the acromion. Over time, the impingement can cause tendinitis, especially supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendinitis, and fibrosis.

In cases of primary impingement, a malformation of the acromion traps the tendons. The malformation is usually a result of aging or rotator cuff injury. In other cases, the head of the humorous is not stable in the shoulder joint and pinches tendons nearer your chest. This is called secondary impingement and is often caused by weakness in the musculature of the rotator cuff. The pain is more likely to flare up when the arm is raised.

Secondary impingement is common in young athletes and often leads to bicipital tendinitis. Swimmers, tennis players and other athletes that frequently raise their arms will develop impingement syndrome as a result of repetitive motion injuries, muscle dysfunction or damage to the rotator cuff. Massage therapy can help injured tendons heal properly, reduce swelling caused by the impingement and break apart scar tissue to reduce symptoms.

When a muscle or tendon is injured, it will form what’s called an adhesion to protect the area from further damage. While helpful at first, adhesions can stiffen and impede healthy healing. A massage therapist can utilize what’s called friction therapy to gently break apart adhesions, reducing pain and stiffness as well as allowing tendons to heal stronger.

Friction therapy can also be used to break apart the scar tissue that forms from repetitive motion injuries. Infraspinatus tendinitis is especially prone to repeat injury and scar tissue formation. Scar tissue thickens tendons, making them more likely to become impinged and causes tension that can lead to further injury.

To help restore range of motion, your massage therapist might also employ gentle stretching and myofascial release techniques. Myofascial release can loosen seized connective tissue around the impingement, significantly reducing discomfort and making movement easier. In some cases, myofascial release can also help an improperly aligned humorous rotate back into place.

Perhaps the most helpful benefit of massage is helping correct the muscle dysfunctions that lead to the initial injury. In many cases, impingement syndrome is the result of a domino affect. A trigger point, tension or pain in a muscle affects how you move your arm in a way that makes you more prone to injury. Your massage therapist will assess your whole shoulder and address any issues gently and effectively.