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By Roxanne Williams, PT, DPT
Shoulder pain is very common. It affects approximately one-third of adults and it’s something we see a lot of at Sheltering Arms. Subacromial Pain Syndrome (SAPS) is one type of shoulder pain in which there is no specific injury. Symptoms are usually limited to one shoulder and centered on the acromion, which is the bony prominence on the top and near the outside of the shoulder region.
Patients experience pain in this region of the shoulder at rest and the pain increases with movement and use of the shoulder, particularly repetitive movement, lifting, and overhead reaching. Onset of SAPS may be noticed during or after lifting of the arm.
Some of the other diagnoses that are included within the umbrella of SAPS are:
• tendinosis calcarea
• supraspinatus tendinopathy
• partial tear of the rotator cuff
• biceps tendinitis
• tendon cuff degeneration
If you’ve developed SAPS, early intervention helps get rid of pain sooner as well as back to work and home activities. That’s accomplished by:
1 – A doctor, physical therapist, or experienced trainer can help identify patterns including movements, positions, and activities that likely contribute to pain and irritation of shoulder tissues and then work to establish strategies to manage, minimize, and prevent the shoulder pain.
2 – Time heals. Take it easy and rest arm for 1-2 weeks compared to prior activity level. Complete immobilization is not recommended, but movement and activity can gradually increase.
3 – Avoid repetitive movements at work and at home.
4 – Exercise is the best medicine. Exercising the painful arm with activities that do not increase pain is recommended. These should be performed with relatively low force (low intensity) and higher reps.
While it is not always preventable, the risk of developing SAPS may be reduced by paying attention to posture and movements:
1 – Alternate arms rather than using only one for repetitive reaching or lifting tasks. Take breaks with repetitive reaching and lifting, as well as anything that involves prolonged application of force through the arm or arms.
2 – Use neutral, ergonomic postures and positions to reduce your risk of developing shoulder pain. Suggestions include symmetrical positioning of the trunk, arms, and neck when reaching and lifting; reducing the distance needed to reach/lift like squatting to pick up items from the floor, or using a step-stool to place items overhead; turn the body instead of twisting with the neck or trunk; and relax the torso into a supportive surface when you’re sitting to reduce the tendency to slouch.
3 – Work on increasing upper body strength to reduce shoulder or neck injuries.