Arthritis of the Shoulder Symptoms

Shoulder arthritis is inflammation of one or both of the joints in your shoulder that facilitate shoulder movement. Arthritis consists of more than 100 rheumatic diseases and other conditions that affect joints and connective tissues and cause pain, stiffness and swelling. Arthritis of the shoulder can affect the AC (acromioclavicular) joint or the glenohumeral joint or both. The AC joint is located where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the tip of the shoulder bone (acromion). The glenohumeral joint is a ball-and-socket type joint at the junction of the upper arm bone (humerus) and the shoulder blade (scapula). Symptoms of shoulder arthritis, or arthritic shoulder, range from pain and limited movement to a clicking or grinding sound upon movement.

Types of Shoulder Arthritis

There are three types of arthritis that affect the shoulder:

  • OsteoarthritisAlso known as “wear and tear” arthritis, this condition generally affects people over age 50. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative and possibly hereditary condition that destroys the smooth outer covering (articular cartilage) of the bone.  Osteoarthritis can affect either the glenohumeral or AC joint at the shoulder.
  • Rheumatoid shoulder arthritis – a systemic inflammatory condition of the joint lining of the glenohumeral joint (synovium). Rheumatoid arthritis affects multiple joints and people of all ages.
  • Post-traumatic shoulder arthritis – can develop after any injury to the shoulder; such as a dislocated or fracture.

Osteoarthritis on the Rise

An estimated 40 million Americans have some form of arthritis or other rheumatic condition. According to a collaborative report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Arthritis Foundation and the American College of Rheumatology, the prevalence of osteoarthritis is rising as baby boomers grow older, with osteoarthritis second only to chronic heart disease in worksite disability.  

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Shoulder and Elbow Services in New York treat arthritis of the shoulder as well as a broad range of shoulder and elbow conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis

You may experience one or more of the following common symptoms of shoulder arthritis:

  • Pain – the most common complaint
    • Pain in the front or back of the shoulder
    • Pain that continues even while sleeping; ability to sleep may be affected
    • Pain or additional discomfort with a change in weather
  • Crepitus – a grating sound or sensation inside the joint upon movement
  • Tenderness – to the touch around the joint
  • Limited motion – inability to brush or fix your hair without pain or discomfort
  • Stiffness of the shoulder
  • Swelling of the joint

Treatments for shoulder arthritis range from medications and activity changes to joint replacement surgery if nonsurgical approaches are no longer helpful for relieving pain. Although people with sedentary jobs may be able to return to work two weeks after surgery, full recovery time can take approximately six weeks.

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