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What Should I Expect from Shoulder Impingement Surgery?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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People who have shoulder problems often endure chronic pain in their shoulder and surrounding areas. One common problem is shoulder impingement syndrome, which is when the rotator cuff impinges on part of the shoulder when the shoulder lifts. Medical professionals usually try conservative treatment first such as physical therapy and medication, but if not successful, patients may need shoulder impingement surgery. Surgery may be laparoscopic or open, depending on the severity of the problem, but most patients can go home the same day. During the recovery period, the patient will usually need physical therapy.

The actual shoulder impingement surgical procedure is a shoulder decompression. Surgeons typically perform the procedure on an outpatient basis and patients get to go home the same day. Patients cannot eat or drink the night before surgery because of anesthesia. Most surgeons also require patients to have bloodwork the day before to rule out underlying medical conditions.

In order to do the surgery, the surgeon uses a microscopic camera or scope to look inside the person’s shoulder and analyze the extent of the damage. If possible, the surgeon will insert the instruments through a tiny incision and use the camera to direct him. Other times, the patient will need to have open surgery to fix the impingement.

A surgeon can release the impingement by removing the bone spur, acromion, or swollen ligament that is causing the problem. Sometimes, a bursa or fluid-filled sack has become wedged in between the shoulder and the rotator cuff, and it may be removed as well.

After surgery, a medical professional will place the patient’s arm in a sling to wear for a few weeks. A surgical team will monitor the patient in the recovery room for a few hours and then allow him or her to go home. The surgeon may prescribe pain medication or an anti-inflammatory for the patient to take.

Individuals who have had shoulder impingement surgery may need to remove the bandages daily to clean the wound and check for infection. Signs of infection include drainage, redness, and swelling at the incision site. Other symptoms would include running a fever along with numbness and extreme pain.

Post-operatively, patients participate in physical therapy once the shoulder has healed from surgery. Physical therapy generally consists of strengthening and flexibility exercises. Individuals can usually resume normal movements as soon as the swelling goes away.

In most cases, the surgery is a success. Some people, however, may continue to experience pain in the same shoulder and the orthopedist may opt to do another surgery. The surgeon may also assign temporary or permanent restrictions after the shoulder has healed, depending on the person’s physical condition.

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Discussion Comments
By anon308496 — On Dec 11, 2012

I am 6 months post surgery, and my shoulder became frozen after surgery. This is not from not doing PT. I am faithful with my exercises. I had to endure two rounds of steroid shots. They are painful, however they prevented a second surgery.

By Mykol — On Apr 22, 2012

How many weeks of physical therapy does someone need if they have surgery for a torn rotator cuff?

Are these exercises for shoulder impingement something you can do at home, or do you need to see a physical therapist?

I am looking at having this done, but have limited coverage when it comes to physical therapy. I am hoping I can do all the exercises I need at home without the extra expense of seeing a physical therapist for several weeks.

By sunshined — On Apr 22, 2012

I have had two shoulder rotator cuff surgeries and neither one of them have been any fun. After the first surgery, I was not very faithful about doing my shoulder impingement physical therapy, and really paid for it.

Even though these were done on an outpatient basis, there was more pain and therapy than what I thought there would be.

Some days I wondered if having the surgery was such a good idea or not. It has been two years since my second surgery and I have not had any more problems.

While shoulder pain is not something very serious, it can still affect your life in a negative way. Living with chronic pain is no fun for yourself or those you live with.

By LisaLou — On Apr 21, 2012

When I was having shoulder pain, I tried to control it with medication and shoulder impingement exercises.

This got to the point where it wasn't working anymore, and I decided to go ahead with the surgery.

It didn't end up being as bad as I thought it would be since it was done on an outpatient basis.

I did go through a few weeks of shoulder rehab, but didn't have to stay off work for very long. It was just a relief to get rid of the constant, nagging pain.

By andee — On Apr 20, 2012

My husband was having chronic right shoulder pain and thought he might have a torn rotator cuff. His doctor took an x-ray and it showed he had a bone spur and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon.

The orthopedic doctor told him most of his pain was caused from arthritis in his shoulder and he would need a shoulder replacement in the future.

This really bothers him when he sleeps at night - especially if he spends much time on his right side.

Since this is a major surgery and something more serious than a shoulder impingement surgery, he is putting it off as long as possible.

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