Subacromial pain syndrome

This information is useful for those who have been diagnosed with subacromial pain syndrome. People who are experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact their healthcare professional.

Read more about self-managing a shoulder problem

What is subacromial pain syndrome? 

Subacromial pain syndrome is a general term used to describe pain which originates from the shoulder and can spread towards the neck or down the arm. It's the most common reason for shoulder pain.

The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. It's a ball and socket joint which enables a very wide range of movement supported by the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. Often, with this condition, these tendons can be weakened.

Subacromial pain syndrome can develop due to:

  • age related changes
  • repetitive strain
  • injury or trauma

However, this condition can sometimes appear without any apparent reason.

Other factors that can affect tendon health include:

Symptoms of subacromial pain syndrome? 

The main symptom is pain in the upper arm caused by specific movements or activities. These are usually activities that involve lifting the arm above shoulder level and reaching behind the back, for example when putting a jacket on.

It may be difficult to lie on the affected shoulder which can disturb your sleep.


In order for subacromial pain syndrome to be diagnosed you'll need an assessment from a healthcare professional.

They'll initially ask you questions about your shoulder issue and then carry out a physical examination. This may include checking your range of movement and strength.

You may sometimes need to have a further examination to rule out other possible health conditions.


Treatment options depend on the severity of your symptoms. Although, most cases improve on their own, some cases can take time to resolve.

Your arm may feel really painful but it's important to keep moving your shoulder. To help manage your pain, break activities you normally do down into smaller amounts.

These should be short term measures to help your pain. As soon as you're able, try to get back to your normal activities, as this is the best way to help your recovery.


Targeted shoulder exercises to encourage movement, stretching and strengthening exercises can help to improve your arm movement and pain. 

Read about exercises for shoulder problems

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

More about taking painkillers

Corticosteroid Injections

If painkillers aren't helping to control the pain, your healthcare professional may discuss the option of having a corticosteroid injection into your shoulder joint.

Corticosteroids are medicines that help reduce pain and inflammation. They may also be given with a local anaesthetic.

Injections won't cure your condition or reduce shoulder stiffness, they are used to help with the pain.

Read more about corticosteroids 


A shoulder problem can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you're off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.

You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels.

Help and support 

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.

If your symptoms haven't improved, or it's got worse, within 6 weeks of following this advice, talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Find out how to access MSK services in your area

When dealing with any health condition it's important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.

NHS 24 Logo

Source: MSK Expert Panel

Last updated:
16 June 2023

Also on NHS inform