Reduction of the subacromial space as a mechanism in the etiology of shoulder impingement syndromes is debated. Although a reduction in this space is associated with shoulder impingement syndromes, it is unclear if this observation is cause or consequence. The purposes of this descriptive review are to provide a broad perspective on the current perceptions with regard to the pathology and pathomechanics of subacromial and internal impingement syndromes, consider the role of the subacromial space in impingement syndromes, describe the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms considered to influence the subacromial space, and critique the level of evidence supporting these concepts. Based on the current evidence, the hypothesis that a reduction in subacromial space is an extrinsic cause of impingement syndromes is not conclusively established and the evidence permits no conclusion.
If maintenance of the subacromial space is important in impingement syndromes regardless of whether it is a cause or consequence, research exploring the correlation between biomechanical factors and the subacromial space, using the later as the outcome measure, would be beneficial.