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What is Arthritis of the Shoulder?

The term arthritis literally means inflammation of a joint, but is generally used to describe any condition in which there is damage to the cartilage. Damage of the cartilage in the shoulder joint causes shoulder arthritis. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury. The warning signs that inflammation presents are redness, swelling, heat and pain.

The cartilage is a padding that absorbs stress. The proportion of cartilage damage and synovial inflammation varies with the type and stage of arthritis. Usually the pain early on is due to inflammation. In the later stages, when the cartilage is worn away, most of the pain comes from the mechanical friction of raw bones rubbing on each other.

What are the Types of Shoulder Arthritis?

There are over 100 different types of rheumatic diseases. The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

This is an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system (the body’s way of fighting infection) attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. Occurring most often in women of child-bearing age (15-44), this disease inflames the lining (or synovium) of joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in joints. When severe, rheumatoid arthritis can deform, or change a joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects mostly joints of the hands and feet and tends to be symmetrical. This means the disease affects the same joints on both sides of the body (both hands or both feet) at the same time and with the same symptoms. No other form of arthritis is symmetrical. About two to three times as many women as men have this disease.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis

There are several forms of arthritis and the symptoms vary according to the form of arthritis. Each form affects the body differently. Arthritic symptoms generally include swelling and pain or tenderness in the joints for more than two weeks, redness or heat in a joint, limitation of motion of a joint and early morning stiffness.

In an arthritic shoulder:

  • The cartilage lining is thinner than normal or completely absent. The degree of cartilage damage and inflammation varies with the type and stage of arthritis.
  • The capsule of the arthritic shoulder is swollen.
  • The joint space is narrowed and irregular in outline; this can be seen in an X-ray image.
  • Bone spurs or excessive bone can also build up around the edges of the joint.

Diagnosis of Shoulder Arthritis

Doctors diagnose arthritis with a medical history, a physical exam and X-rays of the affected part. Computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are also performed to diagnose arthritis.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Arthritis

There is no cure for arthritis, so beware of ‘miracle cures’. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine. He/she may recommend occupational therapy or physiotherapy, which includes exercises and heat treatment. In severe cases, surgery may be suggested. The type of surgery will depend on your age and severity of the condition. In the elderly with severe arthritis, joint replacement can give good results. Common surgery for treatment of shoulder arthritis arthroplasty (replacement of the damaged joint) may be total shoulder arthroplasty or hemiarthroplasty.