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Shoulder Osteoarthritis

What is shoulder osteoarthritis?

Shoulder osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease of the shoulder, is the gradual “wear and tear” of cartilage in the shoulder. Shoulder osteoarthritis affects up to 33% of patients over the age of 60. This condition is often painful and limits patient’s range of motion and ability to comfortably move their shoulder. Dr. Chahla is an orthopedic surgeon from Chicago, IL that has treated many patients with shoulder osteoarthritis and helped people return to their active lives happy and healthy.

Arthritis of the shoulder can be present at the acromioclavicular (AC) joint and the glenohumeral joint (ball and socket). The AC joint is the point where the collarbone meets the tip of the shoulder blade. The glenohumeral joint is the point where the top of the arm bone meets the shoulder blade. Shoulder osteoarthritis is more commonly found in the AC joint; however, it is glenohumeral arthritis that causes more dysfunction for patients and can require further treatment.

What are the symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis?

One of the most common symptoms patients have is pain, particularly when moving the shoulder and after moving the shoulder. The pain often gets worse over the course of the day. Pain can even occur at rest or while sleeping, causing patients to wake up at night. Another symptom may be limited range of motion and grinding. Moving the shoulder might also produce a clicking or creaking noise.

If the glenohumeral joint is affected, the pain will be felt at the front and back of the shoulder as a deep aching pain. If the AC joint is affected, the pain will be mainly on the top of the shoulder. This pain may even move into the side of the neck.

Who gets shoulder osteoarthritis?

Shoulder osteoarthritis most often occurs in people who are over 50 years old. However, shoulder osteoarthritis can be seen in younger people due to an injury or trauma, such as a fracture or dislocated shoulder. Osteoarthritis can also run in families.

What causes shoulder osteoarthritis?

Shoulder osteoarthritis can be either primary or secondary. Primary shoulder osteoarthritis means that there is no known cause of arthritis, but is often related to age, genes, and gender. Woman are affected more often than men. Secondary osteoarthritis means that there is a known cause, such as a previous injury, infection, history or shoulder dislocations, or rotator cuff tears. Working in certain fields such as heavy construction or participating in overhead sports can put you at higher risk of getting shoulder osteoarthritis.

How is shoulder osteoarthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose shoulder osteoarthritis, a thorough history and physical exam is completed by your doctor to assess for pain, tenderness, and loss of motion. Your doctor may also ask questions about how long your symptoms have been occurring, and any history of recent shoulder injuries or trauma.

Medical imaging can also be done to look at the severity of the shoulder arthritis and rule out other possible causes of pain. An X-ray of your shoulder can show if there is a loss of space between the shoulder head and the glenoid, or “socket.” A loss of joint space means there is a loss of cartilage. If X-rays do not give a clear cause, an MRI can also be done.

Will shoulder osteoarthritis continue to worsen?

Shoulder osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that can get worse as you get older. On a day to day basis, not moving the shoulder can cause stiffening and worsening of pain. As the arthritis progresses, pain might get worse if left untreated.

How do you treat shoulder osteoarthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for shoulder osteoarthritis. But there are treatments that can help manage symptoms and keep people as active as possible. Physical therapy is a great way to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder. Pain reliever medications like acetaminophen and anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can also be used to ease pain. Stronger medications called corticosteroids can be injected into the shoulder joint for even greater pain relief. These can be repeated if shown to be effective for a reasonable period of time. Other biological injections such as PRP or stem cells can be attempted to treat the inflammation.

If pain and range of motion continues to worsen or does not improve with physical therapy and medicine, Dr. Chahla may consider surgery. Arthroscopy is one procedure that cleans out the inside of the joint. This can help with pain and range of motion but will not get rid of the arthritis itself. For advanced arthritis, an arthroplasty, or joint replacement can be performed. The head of the shoulder bone is replaced with an artificial “ball” and the glenoid socket is also replaced. Dr. Chahla will discuss the pros and cons of each treatment option, and work with you to develop your unique treatment plan.

At a Glance

Dr. Jorge Chahla

  • Triple fellowship-trained sports medicine surgeon
  • Performs over 500 surgeries per year
  • Assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Rush University
  • Learn more

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