Osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis in the shoulder – is basically a degenerative condition of the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory arthritis can affect the shoulder joint as well, but it’s a rare occurrence.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage cushioning the joints wears thin, causing the bones to rub together. This leads to symptoms of pain, inflammation, and limited range of motion.
The shoulder is comprised of two joints that can be equally affected by osteoarthritis. The main joint is known as the glenohumeral (G-H) joint and is located where the arm bone meets the scapula (shoulder blade). The smaller joint is known as acromioclavicular (A-C) joint. It connects the collar bone and the scapula.
There are five main types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder. So far we discussed the most common type, which is osteoarthritis – degeneration of the joint.
Another type of arthritis that affects the shoulder is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is an autoimmune condition, meaning, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks itself. Along with shoulder pain, RA in the shoulder may also lead to tenderness, stiffness, rheumatoid nodules, fever, weight loss, and fatigue.
Post-traumatic arthritis (PA) is brought on by an injury to the shoulder. PA can also result in fluid buildup in the shoulder, pain, and swelling. It commonly occurs as a result of a sports injury or other type of accident.
Avascular necrosis (AVN) destroys the shoulder joint tissue when the blood cannot reach the bones in the shoulder. As a result, bone cells begin to die. AVN can occur from joint dislocation or bone fracture and can also be a result of taking steroids or drinking high amounts of alcohol. AVN is a progressive disorder, which means it worsens over time.
Lastly, rotator cuff tear arthropathy occurs as a result of an injury to the rotator cuff, which is comprised of muscles and tendons connecting the shoulder blade to the top of your arm. This type of arthritis is usually caused by a rip in the rotator cuff which can lead to intense pain and weakness.
Along with the five different types of arthritis affecting the shoulder, there are other conditions and diseases that can worsen shoulder arthritis and lead to complications. These include juvenile arthritis, gout, pseudogout, reactive arthritis, lupus, infectious arthritis, polymyositis, dermatomyositis, polymyalgia rheumatica, osteonecrosis, Lyme disease. Other conditions such as gallstones, liver abscess, angina or heart attack, or ectopic pregnancy can also result in greater pain and swelling experienced in the shoulder.
The most common symptom of shoulder arthritis is pain that worsens when aggravated through physical activity. This pain may be experienced in an isolated area, in-between the shoulder blades, or all over the shoulder area.
Another common symptom is limited range in motion. You may find it progressively difficult to complete daily tasks that involve raising your arm.
Lastly, you may notice some swelling of the area, which may feel tender to touch.
The risk of arthritis in the shoulder increases with age, but there are numerous other causes of shoulder arthritis that are not age related. For example, experiencing an injury to the shoulder bones, muscles, or tendons. Shoulder overuse, autoimmune diseases, steroid or alcohol use, and a concomitant condition can all contribute to arthritis in the shoulder.
Treatment for shoulder arthritis depends on the type of arthritis you have. Your doctor may prescribe medications, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, range of motion exercises, shoulder injections, and surgery if nonsurgical treatments are unsuccessful.
The earlier you address the issue of your shoulder pain with your doctor, the earlier on you can be diagnosed and receive treatment. Arthritis and related symptoms get worse over time, but effective and timely treatment can help slow down the disease progression and help improve your everyday living.