Subacromial Decompression Surgery

Subacromial decompression is a surgical procedure often utilized to treat shoulder impingement syndrome, a common condition that can cause significant pain and limit shoulder mobility. This condition occurs when there's too little space between the acromion (part of the shoulder blade that forms the highest point of the shoulder) and the rotator cuff, leading to the rotator cuff tendon being pinched. This can result in severe pain, inflammation, and reduced movement. The subacromial decompression procedure aims to alleviate these symptoms by creating more space for the rotator cuff and reducing the pressure on it.

What is impingement?

Impingement arises when there's pressure on the rotator cuff from the shoulder blade. As part of the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder, the rotator cuff permits lifting and rotating movements. When impingement occurs, lifting the arm can cause a bone or ligament to rub against the rotator cuff, leading to pain and limited movement.

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Symptoms and progression

Initially, patients might experience mild shoulder pain that radiates from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm. Activities that worsen pain include:

  • Lifting the arm
  • Reaching
  • Throwing

Swelling and tenderness at the front of the shoulder may also be present. As impingement progresses, pain and stiffness increase until it becomes a struggle to lift or lower the affected arm. If left untreated, the condition could severely limit arm motion. Here are some of the typical symptoms associated with shoulder impingement:


Pain is often the primary symptom and can be persistent. It's usually felt at the front of the shoulder and can extend down the side of the arm. The pain might be minor at first but can become more intense over time, especially when lifting the arm, lying on it, or during activities that involve reaching overhead.

Reduced mobility

The pain associated with shoulder impingement can lead to reduced mobility in the shoulder. Over time, this can result in a significant decrease in the range of motion, making it difficult to perform routine tasks such as dressing, driving, or combing your hair.


Shoulder impingement can cause weakness in the affected arm. This can make it difficult or painful to lift objects, particularly overhead.

Swelling and tenderness

In some cases, shoulder impingement can also cause swelling and tenderness around the shoulder area.


Some people with shoulder impingement experience stiffness in the shoulder joint. This can further limit the range of motion and may be particularly noticeable in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

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Who is at risk for impingement?

Both young athletes and older adults commonly experience this condition, as it's often triggered by overuse and certain repetitive motions. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, including pain during both activity and rest and pain that radiates down the arm.

man touching his shoulder

Diagnosis and treatment plan

After a physical examination and imaging tests confirm impingement, a treatment plan is designed. This plan typically starts with conservative measures such as resting the arm, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy. If these techniques fail to provide adequate pain relief, surgery becomes a likely recommendation.

Subacromial decompression procedure

Severe cases of impingement may require surgery to alleviate the pressure and create more space for the rotator cuff. Subacromial decompression is common, involving the removal of some affected tissue and part of the inflamed bursa. In some cases, the front edge of the shoulder blade may also need removal.

The procedure can be performed arthroscopically or in an open technique, depending on the severity of the condition. Both methods aim to create enough space for free movement of the rotator cuff tendons.

What is the recovery for subacromial decompression?

Recovery length depends on various factors, including the surgical method used. A sling may be needed post-surgery to immobilize the arm and encourage initial healing.

Once the sling is no longer necessary, a rehabilitation program focusing on increasing strength and range of motion in the affected shoulder can begin. Improvement in comfort and function are typically noticeable within a few months, but full recovery may take longer. Watch our video on shoulder impingement surgery for a visual understanding of the procedure.

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Why choose New York Sports & Joints Orthopaedic Specialists to undergo subacromial decompression?

When it comes to shoulder surgery, specifically subacromial decompression, you want to trust your health to the best. At NY Sports & Joints Orthopaedic Specialists, we not only offer top-tier medical care but also a patient-centric approach that sets us apart. Our team comprises highly trained surgeons who graduated from some of the nation's top universities, including Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, and Columbia. This high level of education ensures an in-depth understanding of the human body and the latest surgical techniques.

Every surgeon at NY Sports & Joints Orthopaedic Specialists is a board-certified specialist with fellowship training. This certification means that our doctors have met rigorous standards in their respective specialties, ensuring you receive the highest quality care. We strive to make every patient feel comfortable and understood. That's why we offer services in both English and Spanish, ensuring effective communication and a better healthcare experience.

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