Simply defined, arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. Although there is no cure for arthritis of the shoulder, there are many treatment options available. Using these, most people with arthritis are able to manage pain and stay active.
Types of Arthritis
Five major types of arthritis typically affect the shoulder.
Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis. In osteoarthritis, the outer covering (articular cartilage) in the shoulder joint gradually wears away over time. As the cartilage wears away, it becomes frayed and rough, and the protective joint space between the bones decreases. This can result in bone rubbing on bone. To make up for the lost cartilage, the damaged bones may start to grow outward and form bone spurs (osteophytes). The loss of cartilage also reduces the natural joint fluid that lubricates the joint.
Osteoarthritis usually affects people over 50 years of age and is more common in the acromioclavicular joint than in the glenohumeral shoulder joint.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that attacks multiple joints throughout the body. It is symmetrical, meaning that it usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks its own tissues. In RA, the defenses that protect the body from infection instead damages normal tissue (such as cartilage and ligaments) and softens bone.The joints of your body are covered with a lining — called synovium — that lubricates the joint and makes it easier to move. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the lining to swell, which causes pain and stiffness in the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is equally common in both the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joint.
- Posttraumatic Arthritis
Posttraumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis that develops after an injury, such as a
fracture or dislocation of the shoulder. Not everyone with an injury to the shoulder will
develop osteoarthritis, but places the person at greater risk later in life.
- Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy
Arthritis can also develop after a large, long-standing rotator cuff tendon tear. The torn rotator cuff can no longer hold the head of the humerus in the glenoid socket, and the humerus can move upward and rub against the acromion. This is due to the improper muscle mechanics of the other non-torn rotator cuff muscles. This can damage the surfaces of the humerus and acromion, causing arthritis to develop.The combination of a large rotator cuff tear and advanced arthritis can lead to severe pain and weakness, and the patient may not be able to lift the arm away from the side.
- Avascular Necrosis
Avascular necrosis (AVN) of the shoulder is a painful condition that occurs when the blood supply to the head of the humerus is disrupted. Similar to all body tissues, bone cells die without a blood supply. AVN can ultimately lead to destruction of the shoulder joint and develop arthritis.Avascular necrosis develops in stages. As it progresses, the dead bone gradually collapses, which damages the articular cartilage covering the bone and leads to arthritis. At first, AVN affects only the head of the humerus, but as AVN progresses, the collapsed head of the humerus can damage the glenoid socket as well.
Causes of AVN include high dose steroid use, blood clots, heavy alcohol consumption, sickle cell disease, and traumatic injury, such as fractures of the shoulder. In some cases, no cause can be identified; this is referred to as idiopathic AVN.
The most common symptom of arthritis of the shoulder is pain, which is aggravated by activity and progressively worsens.
- If the glenohumeral shoulder joint is affected, the pain is centered in the back of the shoulder and may intensify with changes in the weather. Patients complain of an ache deep in the joint.
- The pain of arthritis in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint is focused on the top of the shoulder. This pain can sometimes radiate or travel to the side of the neck.
- Someone with rheumatoid arthritis may have pain throughout the shoulder if both the glenohumeral and AC joints are affected.
Other symptoms include limited motion. It may become more difficult to lift your arm to comb your hair or reach up to a shelf. You may hear a grinding, clicking, or snapping sound (crepitus) as you move your shoulder.
As the disease progresses, any movement of the shoulder causes pain. Night pain is common and sleeping may be difficult.
As with other arthritic conditions, initial treatment of arthritis of the shoulder is nonsurgical. Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:
- Rest or change in activities to avoid provoking pain. You may need to change the way you move your arm to do things.
- Physical therapy exercises may improve the range of motion in your shoulder. This should be performed under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may reduce inflammation and pain. These medications can irritate the stomach lining and cause internal bleeding. They should be taken with food. Consult with your doctor before taking over-the-counter NSAIDs if you have a history of ulcers or are taking blood thinning medication.
- Heat or Ice your shoulder for 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a day to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Use a towel or cloth between the heat/ice to reduce irritation of the skin and reduce the possibility of burns/frostbite.
- If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may prescribe a disease-modifying drug, such as methotrexate or similar medication.
- Dietary supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may help relieve pain. (Note: There is little scientific evidence to support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to treat arthritis. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada does not test dietary supplements. These compounds may cause negative interactions with other medications. Always consult your doctor before taking dietary supplements.)
Injections may be beneficial for this condition. They may include:
- Cortisone (Corticosteroid)
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
- Trigger Point Injections
Your doctor may consider surgery if your pain causes disability and is not relieved with nonsurgical options. There are several options including:
- Arthroscopy. Cases of mild glenohumeral arthritis may be treated with arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, the surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into the shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures for the surgeon who then uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments. Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, the surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery. During the procedure, your surgeon can debride (clean out) the inside of the joint. Although the procedure provides pain relief, it will not eliminate the arthritis from the joint. If the arthritis progresses, further surgery may be needed in the future.
- Shoulder joint replacement (arthroplasty). Advanced arthritis of the glenohumeral joint can be treated with shoulder replacement surgery, in which the damaged parts of the shoulder are removed and replaced with artificial components, called a prosthesis.
Shoulder replacement surgery options include:
- Hemiarthroplasty. Just the head of the humerus is replaced by an artificial component.
- Total shoulder arthroplasty. Both the head of the humerus and the glenoid are replaced. A plastic "cup" is fitted into the glenoid, and a metal "ball" is attached to the top of the humerus.
- Reverse total shoulder arthroplasty. In a reverse total shoulder replacement, the socket and metal ball are opposite a conventional total shoulder arthroplasty. The metal ball is fixed to the glenoid and the plastic cup is fixed to the upper end of the humerus. A reverse total shoulder replacement works better for people with cuff tear arthropathy because it relies on different muscles outside of the rotator cuff to move the arm.