Woman with pain in shoulder

Shoulder arthritis

​Shoulder arthritis is a condition that causes pain, weakness and swelling in the shoulder joint. It occurs more commonly with advancing age, but younger people can develop arthritis after a shoulder injury such as a fracture. 

The two primary forms of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis, also known as “wear and tear” or degenerative arthritis. It causes a breakdown in the cartilage between each bone in the shoulder joint. When this cartilage is worn away, the bones start to grind against one another, causing pain, inflammation and decreased movement.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy parts of the body, especially the joints. In severe cases, it can cause joint deformities and organ problems. 

Shoulder arthritis symptoms

Shoulder arthritis symptoms may include:

  • Crackling or clicking noise in the joint with movement

  • Limited range of motion

  • Pain in the joint

  • Redness or heat in the area

  • Swelling

  • Trouble raising your arm

Shoulder arthritis diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnosis shoulder arthritis with:

  • A physical examination to check for weakness, pain and crepitus (crackling in the joint).

  • X-ray—a test that looks at the bones as well as other body structures, including soft tissue around the shoulder joint

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—uses a magnet, radio frequencies and computer to produce detailed pictures of organs and structures of the shoulder.

Shoulder arthritis treatment 

Currently, there is no cure for arthritis of the shoulder, but there are many treatments available so you can manage the pain and stay active. Depending on the extent of your shoulder arthritis, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments: 

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications—medications that reduce swelling and inflammation that causes pain. 

  • Cold therapy—your doctor may recommend applying ice packs to the shoulder several times a day to reduce pain and swelling. 

  • Cortisone injections—where an anti-inflammatory steroid is injected into the shoulder joint. 

  • Heat therapy—your doctor may recommend applying warm compresses to the shoulder to warm up the joint before exercise or activity. 

  • Physical therapy—exercises to strengthen and regain range of motion the shoulder muscles. 

  • Surgery—depends on the severity of the problem and may include arthroscopy or shoulder joint replacement. This surgical procedure replaces the worn-out shoulder joint with smooth metal and plastic components.  

Tired of living with shoulder pain? At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our expert physicians and specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat shoulder arthritis, so you can get back to enjoying life.

Find a shoulder specialist near you.