Subacromial Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of conditions. The most common type is subacromial shoulder pain. It is also known as rotator cuff tendinopathy or shoulder impingement. It is caused by chronic inflammation in the region of the rotator cuff. It is very common, but usually responds to exercise.

There are other causes of shoulder pain, including:

  • Frozen shoulder
  • Arthritis

It is important that if you you had a recent injury, or have other features such as loss of appetite or weight loss, you should contact a health professional to discuss your symptoms.

What is subacromial pain?

Subacromial pain is very common and causes pain in the shoulder and upper arm. It can spread further down the arm and up towards the neck and shoulder blade. It can feel worse when the arm is moved away from the body such as reaching up or when placing the hand behind the back. Pain can come on slowly over time or quite quickly if the shoulder has been used for an activity that is much more demanding than it used to doing each day.

What exercises can be used to help it?

Your shoulder should start to feel better within 6 to 12 weeks if you do the simple exercises on this website. These have been recommended by the UK’s leading shoulder physiotherapists and proven to reduce pain and improve your shoulder. This website will show you how to do them within the comfort of your home. You can watch the videos of how to do these exercises here.

You may only be able to move your arm a small amount at the start but this will improve over time. A small increase in pain while exercising is okay, as long as it goes away within 30 minutes and is not worse the next day. If this happens, don’t worry, do less repetitions the next time and then gradually build up again.

It may take 6 weeks before you start to see improvement. If your shoulder does not improve over 6 to 12 weeks, or gets worse despite the exercises, you will need to visit your doctor again.

How to get the most from your exercises

  • Build the exercises into your daily routine so you can do them regularly.
  • Find time when you are not under pressure and can give the exercises your full attention.
  • Try to do the exercises on six days each week with one day off. If you want to get better you will need to do them on at least four days of the week.
  • You don’t need to do all three exercises straight away – you can start with two and build in the third when you get confident.
  • It helps to keep an exercises diary to record how many repetitions you have done and see how you are progressing.
  • If one particular movement causes more pain, then use it each week to test if you are improving and getting better.

What if the pain doesn’t improve?

If your symptoms are not improving after 6 to 12 weeks, you should discuss them with a healthcare professional.

Acknowledgements & Copyright

Published by BESS with support from GIRFT

Written and produced in 2018 by Jonathan Rees, Ro Kulkarni, Jo Gibson, Clare Connor.  

Supported by Matthew Barker and Rachel Yates.

© British Elbow and Shoulder Society. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the copyright owner. The British Elbow and Shoulder Society should be acknowledged in any such reproduction as the author and copyright holder, and the reproduction should not be used for commercial exploitation unless the permission of the copyright owner has been explicitly granted.