Shoulder arthritis is inflammation in your shoulder joint. Over time, arthritis leads to cartilage loss. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion and popping, clicking and grinding noises in your shoulder joint. Treatments range from pain-relieving home remedies, such as ice, heat and exercises, to surgery.
Shoulder arthritis is inflammation in your shoulder joint. The inflammation causes pain and stiffness. It makes lifting your arm uncomfortable.
The main joint of your shoulder is a “ball and socket” joint. It’s where the “ball” of your upper arm (humerus) rests against the “socket,” or hollowed-out cup, on the edge of your shoulder blade (scapula). This joint is called the glenohumeral joint.
Shoulder arthritis can also happen at a second joint in your shoulder where your collarbone (clavicle) meets the acromion on your shoulder blade. This joint is called the acromioclavicular joint or AC joint.
Over time, arthritis leads to cartilage loss. Cartilage is the tissue that covers the humeral head and the “socket” of your shoulder joint. Cartilage allows the bone surfaces to glide within the joint. It also cushions your bones against impact.
In the end stage of shoulder arthritis, without protective cartilage, bones in the joint rub directly against each other.
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If you have shoulder arthritis, you’ll feel mild-to-severe pain and stiffness in your shoulder. Over time, you’ll notice a loss in your range of motion in your shoulder joint, especially if the glenohumeral joint is involved.
You may feel pain when you reach overhead, lift heavy objects or play sports or join in activities that involve a range of arm movements. In late-stage disease, you may not be able to complete simple everyday tasks without pain. These tasks include such things as bathing, grooming and even writing or using your computer.
The location of your shoulder pain may help tell which shoulder joint is affected.
Symptoms of shoulder arthritis vary from person to person. Signs and symptoms include:
Shoulder arthritis has many possible causes. They include:
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam of your shoulder, including checking the range of motion and strength. Your provider will also ask about your medical history and current symptoms.
Your provider will order imaging tests, including:
Treatment options include home-based and lifestyle care, medications, and finally, surgery.
Shoulder arthritis treatments usually begin with nonoperative, home-based and lifestyle care. These methods keep your shoulder mobile and reduce pain. These treatments include:
Medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Common options are:
If other treatment methods don’t relieve your pain and your arthritis is getting worse, surgery may be an option. Common surgical options include:
Your surgeon may consider variations of these main types of surgeries based on the type, location and severity of your arthritis.
Some people who have arthritis say that glucosamine and chondroitin help relieve their joint pain. These personal reports are hard to evaluate. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements. Unlike medications, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to confirm that supplements help treat arthritis.
Always ask your healthcare if you are thinking about taking these or any other supplements, herbal products or other over-the-counter medications. They’ll share their knowledge as well as make sure these products aren’t interfering with your current medications.
You can lower your chances of developing arthritis, in general, by:
See your healthcare provider at the first sign of symptoms. If your shoulder problem is found early, you can learn ways to reduce pain, change or avoid certain activities and reduce further cartilage damage.
There’s no cure for arthritis. However, many nonsurgical and surgical treatments can treat your symptoms so that you can continue to have an active life.
Your outcome depends on your age, your activity level and the types and range of movements you make with your arm and shoulder. Also, the location, size and the severity of your shoulder arthritis.
Because each person and shoulder situation is unique, ask your provider what outcome you can expect as you explore all treatment options.
Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a painful shoulder condition. Like shoulder arthritis, both conditions involve pain and loss of motion in your shoulder.
Frozen shoulder occurs when the strong connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint (called the shoulder joint capsule) becomes thick, stiff, and inflamed. Even without treatment, frozen shoulder gets better on its own. This may take from a few months to a couple of years.
Shoulder arthritis doesn’t get better on its own. Arthritis attacks the shoulder joint itself, not the surrounding joint capsule.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Shoulder arthritis can be painful and affect the quality of your life. Although there’s no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to ease your pain. You can use ice, heat and exercises to keep your shoulder loose and comfortable. Also, limit or avoid activities that are causing you pain. If these simple methods don’t relieve your pain, ask your healthcare provider about surgical options. Reaching out to your provider is the first step toward confirming the cause of your shoulder pain and developing a treatment plan that can best ease your symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/28/2022.
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