Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis causes pain and decreased range of motion. It typically affects people who are over 50 years of age, and it is more common among people who have had a shoulder injury.

Woman with shoulder heat pack on
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Osteoarthritis is the most common type of shoulder arthritis. Also called wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is characterized by progressive wearing away of the joint cartilage. As the protective cartilage surface of the joint is worn away, bare bone is exposed within the shoulder.

Rheumatoid arthritis, another common type of shoulder arthritis, is a systemic autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the tissue (synovium) that surrounds joints. This inflammation can, over time, invade and destroy the cartilage and bone.

Persistent shoulder arthritis can occur after a serious shoulder injury or after shoulder surgery. There is also a genetic predisposition for this condition.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis

Your shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint where your arm and the thorax meet. Your shoulder socket is formed by part of your shoulder blade, and your arm bone forms the ball of your shoulder joint. This joint has more movement than any other joint in your body, and when your shoulder becomes arthritic it can be a source of pain and disability.

Shoulder arthritis symptoms tend to progress as the condition worsens, but they might not progress steadily with time. You might have good months and bad months, or your symptoms may change with factors like the weather. Your arthritis symptoms on one particular day may not accurately represent the overall severity of your condition.

The most common symptoms of shoulder arthritis are:

  • Pain with activities
  • Limited range of motion
  • Stiffness of the shoulder
  • Swelling of the joint
  • Tenderness around the joint
  • A feeling of grinding or catching within the joint

Your evaluation will begin with a physical examination and X-rays. These can help with the diagnosis of your condition and can also serve as a baseline to monitor your disease and your response to treatment.

Shoulder Arthritis Treatment

Treatment of shoulder arthritis usually begins with conservative methods. If necessary, more extensive interventions, including surgery, might be necessary.

  • Activity Modification: Limiting certain activities may be necessary, and learning new exercise methods may be helpful. Shoulder exercises can be beneficial if your shoulder is weak.
  • Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening of the muscles around your shoulder joint may help decrease the burden on your shoulder. Preventing muscle atrophy is an important part of maintaining your use of this joint.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDs) include prescription and over-the-counter drugs that help reduce pain and inflammation. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking anti-inflammatory medication for your shoulder arthritis.
  • Cortisone injections: Cortisone injections may help decrease inflammation within a joint. While this will not cure your shoulder arthritis, it may diminish the symptoms, including pain.
  • Joint supplements (glucosamine): Glucosamine appears to be safe and may be effective for the treatment of shoulder arthritis, but research into these supplements has been limited. Many people experience moderate relief of shoulder arthritis symptoms with glucosamine.
  • Shoulder replacement surgery: During this procedure, the arthritic cartilage is removed, and a metal and plastic ball-and-socket implant is placed in the shoulder. This can be an option for relief of pain that's associated with severe shoulder arthritis.
  • Reverse shoulder replacement: This is called a reverse shoulder replacement because the ball and socket are reversed; the ball is placed on the shoulder blade, and the socket is placed on the top of the arm bone. This reverse technique allows better function when there is a non-functioning rotator cuff.

Not all treatments are appropriate for everyone who has shoulder arthritis, and you should have a discussion with your healthcare provider to determine which treatments are appropriate for your shoulder arthritis.

A Word From Verywell

Shoulder arthritis is a less common problem than hip or knee arthritis, but when symptoms are significant, the condition can have a dramatic impact on your quality of life. Pain, stiffness, and weakness of the shoulder are all common symptoms of arthritis. Treatments usually start with simple steps and may progress to surgical intervention.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chillemi C, Franceschini V. Shoulder osteoarthritisArthritis. 2013;2013:370231. doi:10.1155/2013/370231

  2. Bilberg A, Bremell T, Balogh I, Mannerkorpi K. Significantly impaired shoulder function in the first years of rheumatoid arthritis: a controlled studyArthritis Res Ther. 2015;17(1):261. doi:10.1186/s13075-015-0777-0

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference. Rheumatoid arthritis.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medical. Shoulder arthritis.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.