Understanding Shoulder Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. While many think of arthritis as something that primarily affects the hands and knees, it can also impact other joints, including the shoulder. In this post, we'll dive into the world of shoulder arthritis, exploring its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Shoulder Arthritis?

Shoulder arthritis is a condition that occurs when the cartilage in the shoulder joint breaks down or becomes damaged. When this cartilage wears away, the bones at the shoulder can rub against each other, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.

Types of Shoulder Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis and typically occurs with aging. It results from the general wear and tear of the shoulder joint over time.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease that can affect multiple joints in the body, including the shoulder. It causes inflammation and damage to the joint's lining.
  • Post-Traumatic Arthritis: This type of arthritis can develop after a shoulder injury, such as a fracture or dislocation. The injury can damage the cartilage, leading to arthritis.

Causes of Shoulder Arthritis

  • Age: As mentioned, osteoarthritis is often related to aging. The older you get, the more wear and tear your joints endure.
  • Injuries: Traumatic injuries to the shoulder, such as fractures or dislocations, can increase the risk of developing shoulder arthritis later in life.
  • Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to arthritis, making it more likely to develop, especially if it runs in their family.
  • Overuse: Repeated overhead movements, common in sports like baseball, golf and tennis, can contribute to shoulder arthritis.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis

The symptoms of shoulder arthritis can vary from person to person, but they often include:

  • Pain: Persistent shoulder pain, especially with movement.
  • Stiffness: Difficulty moving the shoulder, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Difficulty lifting the arm or reaching behind the back.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the joint.
  • Weakness: Weakened muscles around the shoulder due to pain and lack of use.

Diagnosis

If you suspect you have shoulder arthritis, it's essential to see you primary care doctor or an orthopedic specialist for a proper diagnosis. They will typically perform a physical examination, review your medical history, and may order imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans to assess the extent of joint damage.

Treatment Options

The treatment for shoulder arthritis aims to relieve pain, improve function, and slow down the progression of the disease.  Physical therapist can be used as a first treatment option when caught early, or used as a tool after surgery if the disease has progressed further. Your therapist will teach you exercises to improve shoulder strength and flexibility.

In the early stages of arthritis, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain and inflammation. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications. Additionally, your doctor may recommend lifestyle modifications, like avoiding activities that worsen your symptoms and making ergonomic changes in your daily life to help manage the condition. Steroid injections can also provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation.

For more advanced cases where conservative treatments aren't effective, surgery may be necessary. Options include shoulder arthroscopy to clean out damaged tissue, joint replacement surgery, or a procedure called arthrodesis, which fuses the shoulder joint.

Prevention

While you can't always prevent shoulder arthritis, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and avoid surgery:

  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on your joints.
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder.
  • Avoid overuse or repetitive overhead movements, especially in sports or work activities.
  • Protect your shoulders from injury by using proper techniques and equipment when participating in physical activities.
  • When you do feel pain in your shoulder, rest and ice the area and do not return to activity until the pain has subsided and you return to normal.
While shoulder arthritis may not always be preventable, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life. If you suspect you have shoulder arthritis, contact one the orthopedic and sports medicine specialists in Auburn Hills or Warren for guidance and care.

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