What is Shoulder Arthritis?

Submitted by Dr. Bradley Carofino on December 14, 2018

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Shoulder arthritis is one of the main causes of shoulder pain. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions joints and enables them to move smoothly begins to break down. This causes the bones to rub against each other, which leads to joint stiffness, pain and loss of movement. In cases of shoulder arthritis, the bones begin grinding like a mortar and pestle.

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Am I at Risk?

For the most part, arthritis is more common in those 40 and older. While previous shoulder injuries, instability, dislocations and surgeries can put people‒particularly younger people‒ at risk for arthritis, the majority of patients develop arthritis with no history of shoulder problems. We do not totally understand why some people are more prone to it than others.

What are the symptoms?

Arthritis generally causes pain and stiffness. General exercise, including cardiovascular and strength training, help keep all of the body's joints from becoming stiff and is important in the treatment and prevention of arthritis.

If the arthritis gets worse, patients will eventually have a limited range of motion and varying amounts of pain. Since the shoulder is not a weight-bearing joint like the hips and knees, people are usually able to tolerate pain in their shoulders better. But there is no need to fear an arthritis diagnosis. Most people with shoulder arthritis don't immediately need advanced surgery like shoulder replacement.

How do I manage symptoms?

In the early stages of arthritis, people can usually manage their symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications, stretching and possibly even injections in addition to general exercise. By working with your physician early to determine proper stretching and exercise techniques, you can better manage these symptoms and possibly keep arthritis at bay. For patients whose symptoms are not managed by those interventions, an orthopedic surgeon would consider shoulder replacement surgery and other advanced surgical techniques.

The key with shoulder pain is really to act early. By staying alert and working to prevent the development of arthritis, you can potentially prevent the disease from getting worse.

Dr. Bradley Carofino is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in treatment of the shoulder, elbow and hand. Carofino practices with Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists in Chesapeake and is on the medical staff at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.