What is arthritis of the shoulder?

Shoulder arthritis is a debilitating condition, making it difficult to do activities like throwing a ball or lifting an object from a high cupboard.

Types of Arthritis that Affect the Shoulders

There are five different types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder. These are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, rotator cuff tear arthropathy, and avascular necrosis.


Osteoarthritis (also known as the degenerative joint disease) is a condition that occurs when the cartilage, the whitish, flexible connective tissue that covers the bones degenerates or wears down. It can cause pain, swelling, and at times, may lead to the development of osteophytes.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect more than just the joints of the body. It can result in painful swelling of the joints that can eventually lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.

Post-traumatic arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis results from a wearing of a joint that has sustained any type of physical injury. It can be from fall, vehicular accident, sports-related, or any form of physical trauma.

Rotator cuff tear arthropathy

This is a form of arthritis that develops after a long-standing rotator cuff tendon tear. The torn rotator cuff can lead to damage in the surfaces of the bone, which can cause arthritis to develop.

Avascular necrosis

Avascular necrosis refers to the death of the bone tissue as a result of the lack of blood supply. Since bone cells die without a blood supply, avascular necrosis can eventually lead to the destruction of the shoulder joint and arthritis.

Symptoms of Arthritis of the Shoulder

Pain is the most common symptoms of shoulder arthritis. It worsens with activities especially those that require the arms to reach over the head.

Aside from the pain, those with shoulder arthritis also complain of loss of motion and crepitus, the grinding sound when bones rub one another.

Diagnosing Arthritis of the Shoulder

Arthritis of the shoulder is diagnosed after discussing the symptoms and medical history with the doctor. The doctor will also have to do a thorough physical exam. During this examination, the doctor will look for any signs of injury, areas where it is tender to touch, weakness of the muscles, crepitus, and the quality and severity of pain when pressure is applied on the joint.

Additional tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. These include X-rays, blood tests, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

How It Is Treated

Initially, the doctor will recommend nonsurgical methods for alleviating the pain and other symptoms. These nonsurgical interventions may include rest, physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, use of heat/cold compress, and if the underlying cause is rheumatoid arthritis, the doctor may prescribe a disease-modifying drug.

Surgery is only recommended when there is no relief from pain and other symptoms with the nonsurgical methods.

Arthroscopy is the suggested procedure for those with mild cases of shoulder arthritis. And for severe ones, it is shoulder joint replacement.