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Shoulder Arthritis

Alternative names: Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder, Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Shoulder, Post-Traumatic Arthritis of the Shoulder

What is shoulder arthritis?

Arthritis of the shoulder is a painful condition that affects one or both of the two joints that make up the shoulder. It is often caused by wear and tear associated with age, but there are three different types of shoulder arthritis with different causes:

  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common type of shoulder arthritis, especially among older people. It mostly damages the cartilage in the shoulder. Cartilage is important for easy movement and to absorb shock. The damaged cartilage allows the bones to rub together causing pain and can end up making the shoulder out of shape.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is less common and can affect people at any age, but mostly it occurs in people over 40. It is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joint. It is caused by a fault in the immune system and can run in families.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury to the shoulder such as a break or dislocation. Post-traumatic arthritis is often a form of osteoarthritis.

What are the signs of shoulder arthritis?

  • Pain in the shoulder that increases during activity and becomes progressively worse over time
  • Pain that may increase with changes in the weather
  • Difficult moving the shoulder fully
  • A clicking or snapping sound as the shoulder is moved

What causes shoulder arthritis?

  • Wear and tear with age (osteoarthritis)
  • An immune system problem that causes the body to attack its own tissue and can run in families (rheumatoid arthritis)
  • An accident or fall that injures the shoulder (posttraumatic arthritis)

How does my doctor tell if I have shoulder arthritis?

The doctor will take some of the following steps to see if a patient has arthritis of the shoulder:

  • Do a physical exam of the shoulder
  • Order an X-ray to help in diagnosis
  • Request a blood sample to help find rheumatoid arthritis
  • Perform an arthroscopy (look inside the shoulder with a fine tube-like instrument) to confirm the type and location of the arthritis – usually done only if a repair procedure is to be performed

How is shoulder arthritis treated?

Non-surgical treatments

There are several non-surgical treatments that a physician may prescribe depending on the seriousness of the arthritis and the amount of pain:

  • Rest the shoulder by stopping activities that cause more pain
  • Your physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or cox-2 inhibitors
  • Put an ice pack on your shoulder for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day to reduce inflammation and ease pain
  • Your physician may prescribe additional medicine, such as corticosteroids if you have rheumatoid arthritis of the shoulder

Surgical treatments

If non-surgical treatment options do not work, or the problem is serious, then a surgical option may be recommended:

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