Living With Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulders may not be weight-bearing joints like hips and knees, but if you play sports or have a job or hobby that requires repetitive motions, you know your shoulders can be put through a lot. Some activities make your shoulders susceptible to the pain and swelling of arthritis or inflammation of the joints.

Even if you’re not constantly stressing your shoulder joint, you can become susceptible to osteoarthritis through general wear and tear and aging.

“Common triggers are overhead types of activities such as tennis, swimming, and simply reaching for things” says Jacob Gunzenhaeuser, MD, orthopaedic surgeon with The Christ Hospital Physicians - Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine. “But even reaching for things in the cupboard, putting on deodorant, or doing your hair can be difficult due to shoulder arthritis pain. Shoulder patients often experience worsening pain in the evenings, interfering with sleep and preventing a good night’s rest. More rarely, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis can also flare up in the shoulder, and post-traumatic arthritis can set in after a recurring injury to the bone or joint, such as a dislocation.”

Reducing the pain of arthritis

Reducing overhead use of your arms could help you avoid or delay the onset of osteoarthritis, and activity modification may be necessary in treating it.

“Anti-inflammatories, ice, rest and cortisone injections can also be helpful in managing pain. It is important to continue to use your arm for daily activities in order to maintain normal range of motion. Patients will often develop shoulder stiffness which can sometimes improve with physical therapy.” says Dr. Gunzenhaeuser.

Some people have found that nutritional supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine may help as well. Unfortunately, there are no significant clinical trials to prove the value of these supplements, so there is no guarantee they will change the natural progress of the disease

Maintaining shoulder function

If you're suffering from mild to moderate shoulder arthritis, targeted exercise or physical therapy programs can help you return to your normal activity level. However, as the disease progresses and starts to affect your day-to-day activities, you may be unable to participate in certain activities, and this is often a good time to consider surgery.

"Shoulder patients tend to put off surgery longer than hip and knee patients, as they are able to manage with conservative treatments," Dr. Gunzenhaeuser says.

Most arthritis patients who opt for shoulder surgery do it in the advanced stages of the disease.

Learn more information about joint services at The Christ Hospital.