Shoulder Arthritis Overview
Shoulder arthritis is a common cause of chronic pain and shoulder disability affecting more than 20% of the older, adult population. Patients who suffer from this condition experience shoulder arthritis symptoms such as chronic pain, weakness and stiffness of the joint. .
Shoulder arthritis is caused by a result of wear and tear of cartilage in the joint. Cartilage is the smooth coating on the ends of the bones at the joint area that allows for smooth and pain free movement. As the cartilage degenerates, the bone is exposed and shoulder arthritis symptoms occur. These changes can occur as a result of degenerative wear and tear or prior traumatic injury.
There are two distinct joints in the shoulder area that can be affected by arthritis- the acromioclavicular (AC) joint and the sternoclavicular (SC) joints at either end of the clavicle (collarbone).
The major types of shoulder arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis: This “wear and tear” arthritis is a condition that destroys the articular cartilage of the bone. With the cartilage destroyed, bones in the shoulder rub together leading to pain. Osteoarthritis affects people over 50 years of age in many cases.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This chronic disease attacks multiple joints throughout the body and is considered an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the synovial lining that lubricates the joint to swell leading to pain and stiffness.
- Posttraumatic arthritis: This form of osteoarthritis develops after an injury to the shoulder joint such as a dislocated shoulder, rotator cuff injury or shoulder fracture. Even after the injury is repaired, the joint can still experience arthritis due to mechanical and chemical changes within the joint.
Shoulder Arthritis Symptoms
The most predominant shoulder arthritis symptom is pain. Arthritis shoulder pain can range from long, mild periods to intense, sharp bursts of discomfort. Some patients may also experience weakness, stiffness, difficulty moving or lifting the arm and a grinding sensation with motion. Night pain is common after the joint has experienced movement throughout the day.
Shoulder Arthritis Diagnosis
If shoulder arthritis is suspected, Dr. Waterman will conduct an initial history review and thorough physical examination to determine the areas of pain and tenderness. X-rays and an MRI may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Shoulder Arthritis Treatments
Dr. Waterman’s main goal in treating this condition is to diminish shoulder arthritis symptoms such as pain and limited mobility.
Many patients are able to live with symptoms for years before seeking medical help. In most cases, patients can lessen the pain by modifying rest and activity level, icing the joint, attending physical therapy sessions, taking anti-inflammatory medications and visiting Dr. Waterman’s office for corticosteroid injections to the joint.
Dr. Waterman may recommend a surgical intervention if non-surgical treatments do not alleviate the pain. Each patient will have a unique surgical approach based on arthritis severity, intensity of symptoms and the patient’s level of shoulder function.
Dr. Waterman may recommend arthroscopic shoulder surgery in the early stages of the condition. With this procedure, the inflamed synovial lining is trimmed and pieces of the degenerated cartilage are removed. Arthroscopic treatment will not cure the condition, but it will prolong the need for more drastic treatments while relieving pain.
In more severe arthritis cases, Dr.Waterman may recommend arthroplasty, or replacement of the joint. Shoulder replacement replaces the damaged ball with a synthetic surface leading to restored shoulder motion. The replacement results in reliable relief of pain and in most cases significant improvement in range of motion. However, the prosthesis may wear out over time (15 years or more) and therefore patients are advised to delay surgery as long as possible. However, once the symptoms become severe and interfere with daily life and activities, shoulder replacement is a reliable treatment option.
At a Glance
Dr. Brian Waterman, MD
- Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
- Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
- Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
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