Shoulder Joint Arthritis

What is Shoulder Joint Arthritis?

Arthritis is a term which refers to joint inflammation and deterioration of the cartilage that covers the ball and socket components of the shoulder joint. Joint cartilage is a smooth, slippery, rubbery like material. Think of it as being like the bearings of the joint.

When the cartilage wears to a critical point, areas of exposed bone appear in the joint. This will allow bone on bone contact within the joint. The inflammation that develops within the soft tissue lining of the joint (synovitis) accounts for increasing pain as well. The capsule of tissue surrounding the joint becomes thickened and tight resulting in shoulder stiffness.

The symptoms of arthritis may evolve slowly or appear quite quickly. Early symptoms may respond temporarily to non-surgical treatments. If simple treatments fail to control pain symptoms a surgical solution may need to be considered.

What Causes Shoulder Joint Arthritis?

The most common cause of Shoulder Joint Arthritis is Osteoarthritis. This is so called “wear and tear” that can cause deterioration of any joint over the course of a lifetime. There is sometimes a family history of this type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis may also develop secondary to damage to the cartilage bearings. Dislocations of the shoulder in earlier life, sporting, or occupational demands may be relevant. Fractures in the region of the shoulder joint may also predispose to arthritic wear.

There are other arthritic conditions which may cause joint inflammation and deterioration of joint surfaces. These include Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis.

Symptoms of Shoulder Joint Arthritis

Common symptoms are increasing shoulder pain and restricted shoulder mobility. The symptoms typically emerge slowly. However there can sometimes be a rapid onset of pain even though the arthritic wear may have been developing quietly over a much longer period of time. A clicking or grating sensation may be noticed. The grinding in the joint may even be audible. Sleep disturbance due to pain is a common complaint. Many different patterns of symptoms are reported:

  • Shoulder and upper arm aching
  • Sharp pain with shoulder movement
  • Aching after physical activity
  • Difficulty lying on the shoulder
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Shoulder stiffness

Diagnosis of Shoulder Joint Arthritis

The symptoms described above will raise a high suspicion of shoulder joint arthritis. The diagnosis will be confirmed by:

  • X-rays
  • CT Scans
  • MRI Scans

X-rays are very reliable in demonstrating the signs of shoulder joint arthritis.  CT and MRI scans are more relevant in the technical aspects of planning surgery.

Normal Joint Space Normal Joint Space

Reduced Joint Space Reduced Joint Space

Treatment of Shoulder Joint Arthritis

Initial treatment of shoulder joint arthritis begins with activity modification, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication. Gentle physiotherapy may be helpful but if too aggressive may aggravate pain. Constant shoulder aching and sleep loss may indicate a need to consider surgery in the form of Shoulder Joint Replacement.