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What Is Shoulder Arthritis?

Shoulder arthritis is damage to the cartilage in the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder. The smooth covering of cartilage between your shoulder bones allows your shoulder to move and rotate without friction or pain. When this cartilage wears down, your bones may grind against each other, causing pain, inflammation, or reduced range of motion.

Why Choose University of Utah Health? 

U of U Health’s orthopedic team is among the top in the nation. We perform more than 250 shoulder replacements a year. This puts us in the 95th percentile in the nation and makes us the highest-volume center in the Mountain West region. 

Our surgeons are active researchers, which gives qualified patients access to new treatment options through clinical trials. We publish all our outcomes from shoulder replacement surgeries in peer-reviewed journals. Our surgeons meet the highest standards in the nation for shoulder replacements—up to 95 percent patient satisfaction rates. This makes us the top choice in the Mountain West for shoulder surgery.   


Types of Arthritis in the Shoulder

The most common types of shoulder arthritis include: 

  • OsteoarthritisShoulder osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in your shoulder slowly wears down, often because of the natural aging process. It’s sometimes called wear-and-tear arthritis.
  • Inflammatory arthritis—Autoimmune diseases cause your body to attack healthy tissues, leading to joint inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most well-known types of inflammatory arthritis in the shoulder. 
  • Post-traumatic arthritis—This type occurs after an injury, such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. The injury causes cartilage damage and breakdown. 
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy—Some people develop arthritis after a long-lasting tear in the rotator cuff (muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulder joint). A rotator cuff tear may cause your arm bone to rub against these tissues, leading to arthritis.  
  • Avascular necrosis—This uncommon type occurs when you lack blood supply between your shoulder and upper arm. People with sickle cell disease, a history of alcohol use disorder, or prolonged steroid use may be more likely to develop this type of arthritis. 

What Is End-Stage Arthritis of the Shoulder? 

In earlier to moderate stages of arthritis, you have worn or thinned cartilage. In end-stage shoulder arthritis, you have no shoulder cartilage left. During this stage, your bones grind against each other and begin to wear down.

Shoulder Arthritis Symptoms

The most common shoulder arthritis symptom is shoulder pain. You may also have: 

  • grinding or clicking sensations,
  • stiffness, or
  • reduced range of motion.

What Does Arthritis in the Shoulder Feel Like? 

Living with shoulder arthritis can cause pain that keeps you from using your affected arm. Pain may concentrate on the top or side of your shoulder. Sometimes it extends all the way down your arm. The pain may worsen after you exercise or lift a heavy object. You may also have trouble sleeping on the side of your body affected by arthritis.

Risk Factors for Shoulder Arthritis

Common risk factors for shoulder arthritis include:

  • adults over 50,
  • an irregularly shaped shoulder blade that may cause your bones to grind against your cartilage more,
  • a high body mass index (BMI), or 
  • history of shoulder injuries.

Shoulder Arthritis Diagnosis

To diagnose shoulder arthritis, our orthopedic specialist will ask you about your symptoms. They may want to know if your shoulder is stiff or painful. They will also ask what treatments you’ve tried. 

During the physical examination, we may move your shoulder or press on parts of your shoulder to find the source of your pain. We may also ask you to move your shoulder through a full rotation or to try strength exercises such as performing rowing motions with an elastic band. 

You may also have imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-rays, to get a closer look at your bones.

Shoulder Arthritis Treatment

Our treatment for shoulder arthritis will start with nonsurgical options. We may recommend: 

  • activity modifications, such as adjusting job activities or changing weightlifting techniques; 
  • home remedies, such as icing your shoulder or applying warm heat to relieve pain, especially before warming up for exercise;
  • physical therapy for arthritis in the shoulder;
  • medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); or
  • cortisone injections, using ultrasound guidance to inject steroid medicine into your shoulder joint and reduce inflammation.

How Should I Sleep with Shoulder Arthritis? 

If you have shoulder arthritis, you may have trouble sleeping on the side that hurts. You may change positions by either sleeping on your other side or your back. You may also place a pillow near your affected shoulder to prevent rolling onto that shoulder in your sleep.

Shoulder Arthritis Surgery

Your provider may recommend surgery if your symptoms don’t improve with nonsurgical treatments. This might include: 

  • Total shoulder replacement (arthroplasty)The most effective surgery for shoulder arthritis is replacing the shoulder joint with a prosthetic one. Most people can return home the same day as their shoulder replacement surgery. 
  • ArthroscopyThis is an uncommon treatment for shoulder arthritis but is effective for some patients. Your orthopedic surgeon will use a small instrument with a camera (arthroscope) to operate through small incisions (cuts). They will replace your cartilage with donor tissue or graft tissue from your own body. 

Make an Appointment with an Orthopedic Specialist

Shoulder arthritis can worsen without treatment. To find shoulder arthritis relief, call our orthopedic team at 801-587-7109 to schedule an appointment.

To refer a patient to our team for shoulder arthritis treatment, please fill out our referral form or call 866-850-8863 to speak with a physician referral specialist.

When to See an Orthopedic Doctor

If you're suffering from shoulder or elbow pain, you may not know when it's appropriate to seek out a specialist for pain relief. Learn how to spot the signs of severe or prolonged pain that can't be remedied at home.



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