What can I do About Shoulder Arthritis?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
  • Last Modified Date: 06 January 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
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Arthritis is an inflammatory disease characterized by the deterioration of one or more joints. This occurs due to the degradation of the synovial tissue and fluid that cushion the joint, as well as the erosion of cartilage. Although any joint may be affected, shoulder arthritis is the most common form of this disease in adults. In addition, shoulder arthritis can be just as debilitating as arthritis of the hips or knees. However, arthritis should never be counted as being a normal part of aging.

Shoulder arthritis, in particular, may affect one of two joints. The first joint is located at the acromioclavicular, or where the collarbone meets the shoulder bone. The second joint involved in shoulder arthritis is the scapulothoracic joint. Also known as the glenohumeral joint, this is where the "funny bone" of the upper arm connects with the scapula, or shoulder blade.

There are also three different forms of shoulder arthritis. Osteoarthritis of the shoulder most commonly occurs in people over the age of 50 and, as such, is often attributed to simple wear and tear of the joint. This type of shoulder arthritis most commonly involves the acromioclavicular joint.


Post-traumatic shoulder arthritis occurs after an injury to the joint and is another form of osteoarthritis. This condition may follow an obvious injury, such as a fracture caused by an impact or fall. It may also stem from a stress-related injury that may not be so obvious to the patient, such as a torn rotator cuff.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system incorrectly attacks the synovium. Unlike other forms of shoulder arthritis, RA can spread to other parts of the body, including the heart and lungs. RA also tends to occur symmetrically, meaning the opposite shoulder may also be affected.

The most prominent symptom of shoulder arthritis is shoulder pain, most noticeably during periods of rest or while trying to sleep. However, pain may be experienced differently depending on the type and location of shoulder arthritis involved. Pain felt in the back of the shoulder usually indicates arthritis of the glenohumeral joint, while pain in the front of the shoulder is likely caused by inflammation of the acromioclavicular joint. Rheumatoid arthritis of the shoulder may include pain in both of these joints and on both sides of the body. A limited range of motion is common to all forms of shoulder arthritis.

If you suspect that you may have shoulder arthritis, a visit to your doctor is warranted. Treatment is typically aimed toward reducing pain and inflammation with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Sometimes, corticosteroid drugs, such as prednisone, may also be prescribed. Treatment may include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which suppress the immune system. In addition, your physician may suggest physical therapy or instruct you on how to perform simple shoulder exercises at home.

If relief with the above measures is not obtained, arthroplasty, or total shoulder joint replacement, may be recommended. However, it may only be necessary to replace the head of the upper arm bone, a procedure known as a hemiarthroplasty. Another procedure, a resection arthroplasty, involves removing a small piece of the collarbone to allow the voided space to fill itself with scar tissue.



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