Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder|Loyola Medicine

Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

Overview and Facts about Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

Also called degenerative joint disease, shoulder osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that occurs when cartilage in the shoulder breaks down, causing the bones to rub together.

Abnormal bony growths, or bone spurs, may develop. Other, less common types of arthritis in the shoulder are rheumatoid arthritis or arthritis that develops after an injury.

The two most common types of osteoarthritis are glenohumeral and acromioclaviular: 

  • Glenohumeral osteoarthritis affects the shoulder’s main ball and socket joint.
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) osteoarthritis affects the area where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the highest part of the scapula (shoulder blade). This form of osteoarthritis is more common than glenohumeral arthritis.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, it is important to see your healthcare provider early. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can lead to faster recovery. 

Symptoms of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

The most common symptom of shoulder osteoarthritis is pain that gradually gets worse, especially with activity. Other symptoms include:

  • Joint stiffness and discomfort, especially after long periods of inactivity
  • Catching, or when the shoulder’s motion in unintentionally interrupted
  • Swelling
  • Hearing a popping or crunching sound when rotating the shoulder
  • Tenderness in the shoulder
  • Limited range of motion

Pain in a certain part of the shoulder may indicate what type of arthritis you have:

  • Glenohumeral osteoarthritis: Pain is in the back of the shoulder and may get worse with changes in the weather
  • AC osteoarthritis: Pain is in the top of the shoulder and may travel to the side of the neck

If you have these symptoms and find they are getting worse or more frequent, contact your doctor for an evaluation. 

Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of shoulder osteoarthritis. These factors include:

  • Previous shoulder injury or trauma
  • Jobs or recreational activities that require lifting, throwing or other high-impact shoulder movements
  • Genetic predisposition: If you have a family history of poor bone alignment, gout or metabolic disorders, these conditions may increase your risk
  • Gender: More women than men develop glenohumeral osteoarthritis
  • Age: People over 50 are at a higher risk  

Tests and Diagnosis of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

To diagnose shoulder osteoarthritis, your doctor will discuss your medical history and conduct an evaluation of your symptoms. They will then examine your shoulder, testing for joint mobility and looking for signs of weakness, tenderness, range of motion and pain.

Your doctor may also order X-rays or an MRI to confirm any changes to the shoulder joint and space between bones.

Another useful method for diagnosing shoulder osteoarthritis is by injecting a local anesthetic. If, after the injection, your pain is temporarily relieved, it is very likely you have shoulder osteoarthritis. 

Treatment of Arthritis and Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder

Your doctor may recommend non-surgical options as a first step to treat your shoulder osteoarthritis. Rest, a change in activities and physical therapy are all treatments you can enact right away to help manage the pain.

Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory and non-prescription pain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

If at-home remedies or injections do not help to relieve your pain, your doctor will explore if surgical options are right for you. These options include: