Relief for Shoulder Arthritis
There are two joints in the shoulder, and osteoarthritis—damage to the cartilage surface and the resulting inflammation—can develop in both of them.
First, let's get to know the anatomy: The part of the scapula (shoulder blade) that makes up the top of the shoulder and connects with the clavicle (collarbone) is the acromion. The joint where the acromion and the clavicle come together is the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. This joint, no bigger than your thumb joint, allows you to raise your arms above your head. The AC joint contains cartilage tissue, menisci, nerves, blood vessels, and two sets of ligaments. It's the most commonly injured joint in the shoulder. Injuries to this part of your shoulder can lead to arthritis later in life.
The glenohumeral joint, which is commonly referred to as the shoulder joint, is located where the humerus (upper arm bone) meets the scapula . It allows the arm to move in a circular rotation.
How Shoulder Arthritis Happens
AC Joint Arthritis
With AC joint arthritis, the cartilage surface between the collarbone and upper shoulder blade wears thin from repeated movements. Any activity that puts pressure on the joint, either normal or excessive, may eventually cause arthritis.
Glenohumeral joint arthritis is caused by the destruction of the cartilage covering the bones in the glenohumeral joint. When the cartilage wears away, the bones begin to rub together. This can lead to bone spurs, bony growths that can put pressure and cause wear and tear on other bones. Friction increases and the shoulder can't move smoothly or comfortably. As more bone spurs develop, range of motion decreases.
Shoulder Arthritis by the Numbers
The number of essential functions of a normal shoulder (fluid motion, stability, and strength).
Shoulder arthritis is the third most common joint to require surgery.
Percentage of patients with shoulder pain who have degenerative joint disease (arthritis).
Percentage of the older population that's affected by glenohumeral joint arthritis.
The number of people in the United States who seek medical treatment for shoulder pain each year.
Who’s at Risk of Shoulder Arthritis
AC joint arthritis usually occurs in people over the age of 40 and in athletes who use their arms and shoulders for heavy lifting, reaching, or other sports-related overhead movements. Weightlifters are at the top of the list with swimmers, tennis players, and baseball players not far behind. Glenohumeral joint arthritis typically affects adults over the age of 50. Anyone who has had a serious shoulder injury is vulnerable to both kinds of shoulder arthritis.
AC Joint Arthritis Symptoms
- Gradual onset of symptoms
- Pain and stiffness in front of and on top of the shoulder
- Increased pain when reaching behind the back
- Pain when bringing the arm across the body to touch the opposite shoulder
- Pain that radiates into the upper part of the neck and shoulder blade area
- Joint tenderness
- Limited range of motion
- Possible clicking or snapping sensation as the shoulder moves
Glenohumeral Joint Arthritis Symptoms
- Shoulder pain, stiffness
- Pain that comes and goes but increases over a period of years
- Pain that increases with shoulder movement
- Pain that interferes with sleep
- Limit the activities and movements that cause pain.
- Ice or heat applications for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day, whichever one provides relief.
- Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen may relieve pain.
For mild cases of shoulder arthritis, you can return to training and competition when you can tolerate the pain. When surgery is performed to treat glenohumeral arthritis, complete recovery takes 4-6 months.
Incorporate these exercises into your comeback routine:
- Standing Shoulder External and Internal Rotation (two sets until fatigue)
- Floor Y's and Floor T's (2 sets of 10 repetitions for each move)
How to Prevent or Delay Shoulder Arthritis
There are things you can do that might help prevent or delay AC arthritis, but there are no guarantees. Try decreasing the weight, frequency, and duration of weightlifting. Also, incorporate the exercises below into your warm-up routine:
- Floor Posture Slides (2 sets, 10 repetitions)
- Floor Y (2 sets, 10 repetitions)
- Sidelying External Rotation (2 sets until fatigue)
Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.
- Anna J. Hartman, MS, ATC, CSCS, Manager, Performance Physical Therapy Services, Athletes’ Performance, Phoenix, AZ
- American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
- Southern California Orthopedic Institute
- Steadman-Hawkins Clinic