Shoulder arthritis

What is it?

This is a painful, degenerative condition of the shoulder joint in which, over time, the cartilage has worn away. The joint surface becomes uneven, and new bone can form in an irregular pattern (this is know as osteophytes), which restricts the movement of the shoulder.

Why does it occur?

Osteoarthritis in the shoulder joint can be caused by general wear and tear, but can be more common in those who have sustained a previous injury or had surgery in that area. It is also more common in those who play sports or engage in activities in which the shoulder is overused, such as painting or swimming. Another group of patients experience degeneration in the shoulder due to rheumatoid arthritis, so part of the problem is an autoimmune one; the immune system produces antibodies that attach to the shoulder joint lining, causing inflammation, swelling and pain.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of shoulder arthritis are pain, stiffness and swelling. Some patients experience a creaking sensation in the shoulder when moving it, and others find their range of movement becomes restricted. 

How is it diagnosed?

Your surgeon will ask you a series of questions to establish what the source of possible arthritis might be, and to find out about the degree of pain you are experiencing. They will also carry out a detailed examination of your relevant joints. In most cases the diagnosis is confirmed with an x-ray, but occasionally further tests or scans might be required.

How is it treated?

The best course of treatment for shoulder osteoarthritis depends on a number of different factors, including your general health, your day-to-day activity levels, and the severity of your symptoms. Less invasive treatments will almost always be tried before considering the need for surgery.

Non-surgical treatment

For the early onset of osteoarthritis, or in patients where symptoms are mild, treatment options can include: changes in lifestyle combined with some painkilling medicines; physiotherapy;  steroid injections; or hyaluronic acid injections. These options can mitigate the symptoms and, in some cases, postpone the need for surgery.

Surgical treatment

There are several types of shoulder joint replacement, but all generally involve an implant made of metal and plastic. Which implant we use  will depend on how your arthritis affects, and will be determined, in discussion with you, by your surgeon. They will explain all the risks and benefits of each implant option.

Treatment options

Shoulder replacement

Shoulder replacement

Shoulder replacement

The One Orthopaedics team specialists

Anthony Hearnden

Consultant Orthopaedic Specialist FRCS (Tr & Orth)