Condition/Injuries

Shoulder Arthritis

What is shoulder arthritis?

Shoulder arthritis is a painful inflammation and stiffness of the shoulder joint. It develops as articular cartilage – the rubbery tissue that allows bones to glide smoothly over one another – gradually erodes. Without the cushioning effect of cartilage, the bones of the shoulder joint rub together causing pain and irritation.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of shoulder arthritis. Also called "wear and tear" arthritis, it is a progressive, degenerative disease in which the surface layer of cartilage slowly wears away. Osteoarthritis is especially common among middle-aged and older adults. Rheumatoid arthritis is another form of shoulder arthritis. This inflammatory condition, which can occur at any age, is more common in females and generally affects multiple joints.

What are the symptoms of shoulder arthritis?

Arthritis inflammation causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues.

Common early symptoms include pain after physical activity, stiffness first thing in the morning and limited range of motion when moving your arm on the affected side. Moving your shoulder might produce a clicking or creaking noise. Generally, the pain associated with arthritis develops gradually. With time, symptoms may occur more often, making it difficult to perform everyday activities.

How is shoulder arthritis diagnosed?

In addition to a physical exam and patient history, your doctor can use specific tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to diagnose shoulder arthritis.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure for shoulder arthritis, but treatment can help slow its progression, reduce pain and increase function. Patients are encouraged to try conservative options first, including exercise, physical therapy, and medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation.

If these non-operative treatments don't work, preservation of the shoulder joint with arthroscopic measures to remove secondary pain generators may be an option in younger patients. To review the details of the arthroscopic treatment options, please see the following article: The CAM Procedure for Treatment of Glenohumeral Osteoarthritis. However, shoulder replacement offers the definitive treatment option for most patients with shoulder arthritis. It is a safe and effective procedure to relieve pain and help you resume normal activities. In a total shoulder replacement, the damaged bone and cartilage are removed and replaced with metal and parts.

Recovery from shoulder replacement surgery varies by patient. Advancements in minimally invasive approaches, improved implant material and design, and refined surgical techniques have dramatically reduced recovery time and complication rates. Hospital stays can be as short as one or two days.

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