Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis is less common than arthritis in other joints, but like other forms, it’s often very painful and debilitating, and can diminish one’s quality of life.

Types of Shoulder Arthritis

The type of shoulder arthritis is generally one of three: osteoarthritis (“wear and tear”), which usually affects people over 50 years of age; rheumatoid arthritis, which is a systematic inflammatory condition of the joint lining and usually affects both joints on both sides of the body; and post-traumatic arthritis, which develops after an injury such as a fracture, rotator cuff tear, or dislocation of the shoulder.

Arthritis can affect different parts of your shoulder joint. The glenohumeral or scapulothoracic joint is the largest joint, and most commonly affected by shoulder arthritis. The glenohumeral joint is located where the upper arm bone (humerus) meets the glenoid cavity, which is part of your shoulder blade (scapula).

The AC joint can also be affected by arthritis. This joint is located where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the tip of the shoulder bone (acromion).

Your surgeon will perform various tests to identify if you are suffering from arthritis, and if so, what type.

Signs of Shoulder Arthritis

Individuals with shoulder arthritis usually complain of shoulder pain and limited motion, and/or night pain. Activity can aggravate the pain. The shoulder pain generally becomes progressively worse.

If the arthritis is affecting the glenohumeral joint, often the pain is centered in the back of the shoulder, whereas arthritis affecting the acromioclavicular joint usually creates pain in the front.

Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis often feel pain in all areas because both shoulder joints may be affected.

Treatment Options

Often your physician might first recommend daily exercises, physical therapy, lifestyle change (rest and/or change in activity) or anti-inflammatory medications to help your shoulder. If pain and limited motion continue, shoulder surgery may be the next course of action.

When arthritis affects the glenohumeral joint, surgical treatment can include a total shoulder arthroplasty, or a replacement of the entire shoulder joint. If you have any bone spurs that cause pain and inflammation, these may also be removed during surgery.

The other surgical option is to replace just the head of the upper arm bone (hemiarthroplasty). Hemiarthroplasty is sometimes recommended for younger patients.

When arthritis affects the acromioclavical joint, the most common surgical procedure used is a resection arthroplasty. In this surgery, a small piece of bone from the end of the collarbone is removed, leaving a space that later fills with scar tissue.

If you have shoulder pain or have already been diagnosed with shoulder arthritis, we recommend calling our offices to make an appointment. The surgeons at Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle will discuss the best treatment plan for your specific condition.