top of page

Shoulder arthritis


What is shoulder arthritis?

Arthritis is swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age.


Types of shoulder arthritis

There are four types of shoulder arthritis. 

  • Osteoarthritis

Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition that destroys the smooth outer covering (articular cartilage) of bone. During movement, the bones of the joint rub against each other, causing pain. Osteoarthritis usually affects people over the age of 50.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks multiple joints. It occurs when your immune system attacks your own body. 

  • Post-traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis that develops after an injury, such as a fracture or dislocation of the shoulder.

  • Rotator Cuff Tear Arthritis

Arthritis can also develop after a rotator cuff tendon tear. The injured rotator cuff can no longer hold the head of the bone in the shoulder socket, and the bone can rub against the joint. It can damage the surfaces of the bones, causing arthritis to develop.

Symptoms of shoulder arthritis include: 

The symptoms of shoulder arthritis vary with different severity. Here are some examples of common symptoms of arthritis: 

  • Pain. The most common symptom of arthritis in the shoulder is pain which worsens with activity and progresses over time.

  • Limited range of motion. Limited motion is another common symptom. It may become more challenging to lift your arm to comb your hair, reach up to a shelf or perform other daily tasks

  • Crepitus. As you move your shoulder, you may hear a grinding, clicking, or snapping sound (crepitus).


When should I seek medical help?

There are circumstances when shoulder pain might be caused or accompanied by severe issues. If such symptoms are present, it is best to seek immediate medical attention to avoid further complications:

  • Shoulder pain with a fever, swelling, or redness

  • Difficulty sleeping due to pain or discomfort of the affected shoulder

  • Difficulty or pain when attempting to reach backwards, raise your arm over your head, or reach across your body

  • Pain for more than two weeks, even after home treatment

  • A joint that appears deformed

  • A previous dislocation of the shoulder



To diagnose any arthritis in your shoulder, your doctor will take your case history and past medical history into account. They will check to see if it is tender in any area. They will have you move your arm in different directions to check the range of motion and will also test the power of your arms. 

Your doctor will check for other causes leading to your shoulder pain. They may examine your neck to ensure the pain is not coming from a pinched nerve. 

Other tests which may help your doctor confirm your diagnosis include X -rays. It will show joint space narrowing, bone changes and formation of bone spurs (osteophytes).



Non-surgical treatment is often the first-line treatment for shoulder arthritis. Some examples of non-surgical treatments includes the following:  

  • Rest or change in activities. You may need to change the movement of your arm to avoid provoking pain.

  • Physical therapy exercises may improve your shoulder's range of motion, strength, and function.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, may reduce inflammation and pain.

  • Corticosteroid injections in the shoulder can reduce inflammation and pain.

  • Heat pads will help relieve the tension in the soft tissues of the shoulder and may provide temporary relief.

If your pain is not relieved with nonsurgical treatment and affects your daily activities, your doctor may consider surgery as an option. Some options of surgery include:  

  • Arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, the doctor inserts a small camera into the shoulder joint. The camera shows the condition inside the joint and guides the surgeon through the surgery. During the procedure, your doctor can clean out the inside of the joint. The surgery provides pain relief, however it will not eliminate arthritis from the joint.

  • Shoulder joint replacement (arthroplasty). Shoulder replacement surgery can treat advanced arthritis of the shoulder joint. In this surgery, damaged parts of the shoulder are removed and replaced with artificial components, called a prosthesis.


Prevention of arthritis in the shoulder

There are multiple measures to prevent shoulder arthritis, here are some of the common methods: 

  • Exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff.

  • Keep good posture. Roll your shoulders backwards and avoid leaning your neck forward while sitting.

  • Try not to lie on your shoulder while you sleep.

  • Avoid smoking as it decreases blood flow to the rotator cuff.

  • Avoid activities with repetitive overhead arm action.

  • Warm up before working out and allow sufficient recovery after strenuous workouts

bottom of page