Shoulder Arthritis

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Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. Normal cartilage protects a joint and allows it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed across the joint. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together. This causes, swelling (inflammation) and stiffness.

Joint inflammation may result from:

  • An autoimmune disease (the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue)
  • Broken bone
  • General "wear and tear" on joints
  • Infection, usually by bacteria or virus

In most cases, the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Reduced ability to move the joint
  • Redness and warmth of the skin around a joint
  • Joint stiffness, especially in the morning


The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage. The underlying cause often cannot be cured.
One of our health care providers may suggest physical therapy. This might include:

  • Heat or ice
  • Water therapy
  • Massage

Other things you can do include:

  • Get plenty of sleep. Sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night and taking naps during the day can help you recover from a flare-up more quickly, and may even help prevent flare-ups.
  • Avoid staying in one position for too long.
  • Avoid positions or movements that place extra stress on your sore joints.
  • Change your home to make activities easier. For example, install grab bars in the shower, the tub, and near the toilet.
  • Try stress-reducing activities, such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain important vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E.
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, and herring), flaxseed, rapeseed (canola) oil, soybeans, soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and smoking.
  • Apply capsaicin cream over your painful joints. You may feel improvement after applying the cream for 3 to 7 days.

Medicines may be prescribed along with lifestyle changes. All medicines have some risks. You should be closely followed by a doctor when taking arthritis medicines.
Cortisone injections into the shoulder joint may be helpful to alleviate pain.

If there is still significant pain and limitation of function despite all conservative treatment measures, surgery may be helpful.

Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopic surgery to release tight tissue and remove bone spurs.
    • This may be effective if the arthritis is still relatively mild to moderate.
  • Shoulder joint replacement (arthroplasty).
    • Shoulder arthroplasty is indicated in advanced arthritis, and can be very effective in alleviating pain and restoring a functional range of motion.
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