Shoulder Arthritis

What is shoulder arthritis?

Arthritis is a common, and sometimes painful, condition that affects the joints in your body. Arthritis of the shoulder can affect one or both of your shoulder joints — the acromioclavicular joint and the glenohumeral joint. There are five main types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder joints: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, rotator cuff tear arthropathy, and avascular necrosis. While there is no cure for shoulder arthritis, with the right treatment, you can maintain an active lifestyle and achieve pain relief.

What causes shoulder arthritis?

There are many types of arthritis which can affect the shoulder, each caused by varying factors. Some of the most common forms of arthritis that impact the shoulder are:

  • Osteoarthritis — which is caused by gradual “wear and tear” of bone cartilage. This type of arthritis is generally seen in people over the age of 50.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the joints and tissues in your body.
  • Posttraumatic arthritis — which is caused by trauma or injury to the shoulder. Injuries that may lead to posttraumatic arthritis include shoulder dislocations and fractures.
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy — which occurs when there is a large tear in the rotator cuff that causes the head of the upper arm to reposition and rub against the top of the shoulder blade. As the bones rub, their surfaces wear away, which can lead to arthritis.
  • Avascular necrosis — a condition that causes a cut-off of blood supply, which can lead to bone cell death and joint degeneration of the upper arm bone.

What are the signs and symptoms of shoulder arthritis?

The most notable sign of shoulder arthritis is pain. Depending on which joint in the shoulder is affected, pain will vary. If the glenohumeral joint is impacted, intense pain may be felt in the back of the shoulder and sometimes worsen with certain weather. When the acromioclavicular joint is affected, pain is typically felt at the surface of the shoulder. If both the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joint are affected, pain may be felt in multiple areas of the shoulder.

If you are suffering from shoulder arthritis, you may also experience a decreased or limited range of motion. Routine tasks that require you to raise or elevate your arm may seem more challenging, and, in some cases, you may notice a “snapping” sound when you move your shoulder. With time symptoms of pain may intensify and the slightest movements may trigger pain, even during the night or when at rest.

How is shoulder arthritis diagnosed?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or believe you have shoulder arthritis, an evaluation by an experienced medical professional can help determine the cause of your symptoms. To help diagnose shoulder arthritis, your doctor will begin by going over your medical history and symptoms. Next, your doctor will perform various physical exams to help assess your mobility, strength, and degree of pain.

To ensure that your symptoms are not the result of similar conditions and to help confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may need to perform additional testing. Additional testing may include X-rays to provide in-depth imaging. Your doctor may also administer a local anesthetic injection into your shoulder joint. A diagnosis can be confirmed if the injection temporarily alleviates pain.

How is shoulder arthritis treated?

If you are suffering from shoulder arthritis and are seeking pain relief, there are surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available. Based on various factors, such as your activity level and symptoms, treatment will vary.

Here at our practice, whenever possible, we aim to first recommend nonsurgical treatments to help restore mobility, alleviate pain, and prevent the progression of damage. Nonsurgical treatment options may include:

  • Resting and avoiding activities that induce shoulder pain
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to bring down swelling and pain
  • Physical therapy and exercise to improve shoulder strength and mobility
  • Steroid injections to help alleviate pain
  • Icing your shoulder two or three times per day to help bring down swelling and pain
  • Certain dietary supplements to help alleviate pain

When nonsurgical treatment options are ineffective, we specialize in and offer surgical treatment options such as arthroscopy and open shoulder surgery to help alleviate shoulder arthritis pain. Platelet-rich plasma therapy may also be used to help promote healing, alleviate pain, and enhance recovery time.

If you are experiencing symptoms of shoulder arthritis, a consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be the first step towards diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Dr. Burrus is an experienced fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who is dedicated to providing high-quality, specialized holistic care. Call 512.477.6341 or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment.