Your shoulder joints are some of the most mobile joints in your body; so when they become painful, you’ll definitely be reminded of it repeatedly. Because shoulder joints experience a lot of wear and tear over the years, they can easily become unstable. Shoulder arthritis is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. At Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, we would like to focus this month on exploring the causes of and treatments for shoulder arthritis.
Damage from arthritis affects your joints and ligaments. The main symptoms of shoulder arthritis are pain and a limited range of motion. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) points out that actually 5 different types of shoulder arthritis exist:
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is usually age-related (people over 50 are susceptible), causing joint pain, stiffness and tenderness.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): This is an autoimmune disease which may affect both shoulders at once. Symptoms include tenderness and warmth in the shoulder joints, as well as stiffness that’s most often noticed in the morning upon rising. It can also be accompanied by fatigue, weight loss and even fever. RA can also cause bone deformities over time.
- Post-Traumatic Arthritis (PA): This type of arthritis develops as the result of an injury. Post-Traumatic Arthritis of the shoulder causes fluid buildup in the joint, as well as pain and swelling.
- Avascular Necrosis: When blood can’t reach the humerus (the long bone in your arm), cells in your shoulder bone begin to die and destroy the joint tissues in your shoulder. The condition might be caused by dislocating or fracturing your shoulder or by excessive use of steroids or alcohol.
- Rotator Cuff Arthropathy: The rotator cuff within your shoulder connects your shoulder blade to your upper arm through a web of muscles and tendons. A tear in one or more of the tendons in the rotator cuff can lead to this condition, which causes intense pain and muscle weakness in your shoulder joint.
To patients suffering from shoulder arthritis, finding relief is the biggest priority. Treatment should always begin with the most basic, noninvasive steps; and progress to more involved treatments — up to and including surgery — only when more conservative measures have failed.
The good news is that for many people suffering from shoulder arthritis, conservative treatments are often quite successful in easing pain and stiffness, restoring range of motion and avoiding more invasive interventions.
How Is Shoulder Arthritis Treated?
Starting with conservative treatments and progressing to more invasive treatments, including surgical options, your orthopaedist may recommend one or more of the following:
- Physical Therapy: A physical therapist will develop a program of exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint and to prevent them from atrophying (atrophy being a decrease in muscle mass that happens when muscles aren’t used sufficiently). Your physical therapist may also advise you to limit certain activities which may aggravate your shoulder arthritis.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) help reduce inflammation and pain. NSAIDS are available both over-the-counter and by prescription only; your orthopaedist will judge which, if any, is best for you.
- Cortisone Injections: While cortisone injections won’t cure shoulder arthritis, they can offer significant and often long-lasting relief from pain and joint inflammation.
- Only after the measures above have been tried — and if you’re still suffering significant pain, inflammation and limited shoulder mobility — should you discuss the possibility of shoulder surgery with your orthopaedist. He or she may recommend options such as arthroscopy for mild-to-moderate shoulder arthritis. Joint replacement surgery may be indicated for more advanced or severe progression of shoulder arthritis.
To schedule an appointment for comprehensive orthopaedic care, including pain management, please contact us at Hampton Roads Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine at (757) 873-1554.