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Shoulder Arthritis

An inflammation of the shoulder joint can cause pain and restricted joint movement

Arthritis is a degenerative disease caused by either wear and tear (osteoarthritis) or an inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis) of one or more joints. Arthritis not only affects joints; it may secondarily affect supporting structures such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Symptoms of shoulder arthritis

The usual signs of arthritis of the shoulder are pain, particularly over the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, and a decrease in shoulder motion. A doctor may suspect the patient has arthritis when there is both pain and swelling in the joint.

Diagnosis of shoulder arthritis

The diagnosis may be confirmed by a physical examination and x rays. Blood tests may be helpful for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis, but other tests may be needed as well. Analysis of synovial fluid from the shoulder joint may be helpful in diagnosing some kinds of arthritis. Although arthroscopy permits direct visualization of damage to cartilage, tendons, and ligaments, and may confirm a diagnosis, it is usually only done if a repair procedure is to be performed.

Treatment of shoulder arthritis

Most often osteoarthritis of the shoulder is treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. (Rheumatoid arthritis of the shoulder may require physical therapy and additional medicine, such as corticosteroids.)

When conservative treatment of osteoarthritis of the shoulder fails to relieve pain or improve function, or when there is severe deterioration of the joint causing parts to loosen and move out of place, shoulder joint replacement (arthroplasty) may provide better results. In this operation, a surgeon replaces the shoulder joint with an artificial ball for the humerus and a cap (glenoid) for the scapula.

Passive shoulder exercises (where someone else moves the arm to rotate the shoulder joint) are started soon after surgery. Patients begin exercising on their own about 3 to 6 weeks after surgery. Eventually, stretching and strengthening exercises become a major part of the rehabilitation program. The success of the operation often depends on the condition of rotator cuff muscles prior to surgery and the degree to which the patient follows the exercise program.


Information provided by the
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health


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