An Occupational Therapist Explains Shoulder Impingement Injuries Like What Kyle Hendricks Suffered

The Cubs haven’t offered many specifics on Kyle Hendricks’ shoulder injury, but they did share some basic information prior to Tuesday’s game with the White Sox. While saying there has been not change in the righty’s prognosis, Jed Hoyer told reporters that imaging revealed an “impingement” that they caught early.

Okay, so what is a shoulder impingement exactly?

The best place to start is understanding that the root cause of sports injuries in general is repetitive use. If an injury isn’t caused by acute trauma like a ball hitting your hand and breaking your wrist, it’s very likely to be chronic in nature. This is true for non-athletes too, as injuries from Fortnitis to texting thumb are caused by repetitive use.

A shoulder impingement like the one Hendricks is dealing with is no exception, since one of his main goals as a pitcher is to have a precisely repeatable delivery. The good news there is that it enables him to have a good idea of what to expect as he pitches. The bad news is that a repetitive motion can generate stress injuries.

A shoulder impingement, which is really just a somewhat ominous-sounding way to describe an increase in pressure on a particular area, tends to occur with overhead movement. The most common irritation occurs as a result of repetitive contact between the acromion (basically the far end of your shoulder blade) and the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff, circled in green and the acromion, circled in yellow.

Just looking at those structures together, you can see how repeatedly putting pressure on the structures of the rotator cuff as the arm is raised could cause problems. The rotator cuff muscles can be brought into contact with that bone, which can eventually cause inflammation. We certainly don’t have access to images from Hendricks’ tests, but this is what it sounds like happened with him.

So is there anything to be worried about? It’s hard to say based on the nebulous diagnosis since impingements can range in severity. Everything coming from the Cubs seems positive, though, and we don’t have any particular reason to doubt them here.

Hendricks himself downplayed the issue after he was initially placed on the IL and Joe Maddon said they might not have even taken that step if the Cubs were in a late-season pennant race. There’s a lot of season left and proceeding with an overabundance of caution seems like a sensible course of action.

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