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SHOULDER ARTHRITIS                                  KANDILNOTES


  • Shoulder arthritis is a degenerative process where the cartilage between the ball and socket thins and wears down over time

  • This can lead to bone-on-bone arthritis where the cushion layer of the shoulder is gone resulting in bone pain and joint swelling

  • Shoulder arthritis affects both males and females

  • There are two main types of shoulder arthritis: Glenohumeral Arthritis and Rotator Cuff Arthropathy

  • Glenohumeral arthritis can be further divided into osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis

  • 10% of patients with glenohumeral arthritis have a rotator cuff tear



  • The direct cause of shoulder osteoarthritis is not known although there are numerous risk factors

  • Risk factors for knee arthritis include increased age, weight, hereditary factors, previous injury, and profession

  • Rotator cuff arthropathy is caused by abnormal shoulder mechanics resulting from a chronic rotator cuff tear



  • Shoulder pain with lifting, overhead activities, stretching beyond levels of comfort 

  • Shoulder pain is usually present at baseline but becomes worse with activity and motion

  • Shoulder swelling can sometimes occur, especially with arthritis flare-ups



  • There is no medication that can reverse the effects of arthritis. The focus of treatment is on managing symptoms, decreasing pain and flare ups, and slowing the progression of disease. Treatment is multimodal and includes:

  • Physical Therapy is important to improve strength and maintain range of motion to prevent weakness and stiffness by stretching the capsule

  • Corticosteroid injections can decrease inflammation and pain but have diminishing returns

  • Gel injections composed of hyaluronic acid can help lubricate the joint and decrease pain

  • Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and stem cell injections early studies show promising results for the treatment of mild to moderate shoulder arthritis. 

  • An arthroscopic surgical option called comprehensive arthroscopic management (CAM) of the shoulder has become an option in recent years in the carefully selected patient with mild to moderate arthritis

  • Open Surgery is composed of one of two options

  • Total Shoulder Replacement is indicated in patients with glenohumeral arthritis with persistent symptoms and functional impairment whose symptoms persist despite trying some of the above conservative management options

  • Reverse Shoulder Replacement is indicated in patients with rotator cuff arthropathy with persistent symptoms and functional impairment whose symptoms persist despite trying some of the above conservative management options



  • Optimizing your modifiable risk factors may improve symptoms and slow progression of arthritis. This includes:

  • Avoiding heavy lifting and overhead activities can decrease the forces on your shoulder and improve symptoms

  • Treating rotator cuff tears before they become chronic can decrease the chance of developing rotator cuff arthropathy



Shoulder (glenohumeral) arthritis is a common source of pain and disability that affects up to 20% of the older population. Damage to the cartilage surfaces of the glenohumeral joint (the shoulder’s “ball-and-socket” structure) is the primary cause of shoulder arthritis.


There are many treatment options for shoulder arthritis, ranging from anti-inflammatory medications and exercises for mild cases, to surgical procedures for severe cases. Treatment decisions are based upon the cause, the symptoms and the severity of the patient’s disease. Each year, over 120,000 shoulder replacement surgeries are performed in the United States to relieve pain and improve function for shoulders that are severely damaged by glenohumeral arthritis.


The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body with a complex arrangement of structures

working together to provide the movement necessary for daily life. Unfortunately, this great mobility comes at the expense of stability. Several bones and a network of soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joint capsule), work together to produce shoulder movement. They interact to keep the joint in place while it moves through extreme ranges of motion. Each of these structures makes an important contribution to shoulder movement and stability. Certain work or sports activities can put great demands upon the shoulder, and injury can occur when the limits of movement are exceeded and/or the individual structures are overloaded.


What is the labrum and what does it do?

The labrum is a disk of cartilage on the glenoid, or “socket” side of the shoulder joint. The labrum helps stabilize the joint and acts as a “bumper” to limit excessive motion of the humerus, the “ball” side of the shoulder joint, against the glenoid. More importantly, it holds the humerus securely to the glenoid, almost as if suction were involved. Although the glenoid itself is a relatively flat surface, the labrum’s cuff-like contour gives the glenoid a more concave shape. The secure but flexible fit of the humerus within the glenoid permits the great range of motion of the healthy shoulder.


What is glenohumeral joint arthritis?

Glenohumeral joint arthritis is caused by the destruction of the cartilage layer covering the bones in the glenohumeral joint. This creates a “bone-on-bone” environment, which encourages the body to produce osteophytes (bone spurs). Friction between the humerus and the glenoid increases, so the shoulder no longer moves smoothly or comfortably. As osteophytes develop, motion is gradually lost.


A number of conditions can lead to the breakdown of cartilage surfaces:

·  Wear and tear over time

·  Trauma (such as a fracture or dislocation)

·  Infection

·  A chronic (long-standing) inflammatory condition (such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis)

·  Osteonecrosis (bone death caused by loss of blood supply)

·  Chronic rotator cuff tears in which the head of the humerus (the upper bone in the arm) loses its proper position in the middle of the glenoid (socket)

·  Rare congenital and metabolic conditions

·  Post-surgical changes that can be a result of over-tightening during instability surgery


What are the signs and symptoms of glenohumeral arthritis?

·  Pain from bone-on-bone rubbing within the joint is the most common symptom of glenohumeral arthritis

·  At first the pain may come and go, but it tends to increase with time, usually over several years. Movement usually adds to the discomfort.

·  The pain is commonly present at night, and interferes with sleep. There may or may not be pain at rest.

·  Loss of motion is another common symptom.


Possible causes of motion loss include:

·  Osteophytes that block joint motion

·  Constriction of the joint capsule due to chronic inflammation, pain, and disuse

·  Fractures or previous surgeries that may have changed joint structure and interfere with motion

·  Weakness of the supporting muscles following a rotator cuff tear


Other symptoms may be:

·  Atrophy (wasting away) of shoulder muscles due to disuse

·  Swelling in the shoulder due to inflammation

·  Crepitus (clicking or crunching sound) during shoulder motion

·  Tenderness with palpation (touch) affecting the entire shoulder region or specific areas


How is glenohumeral arthritis diagnosed?

The doctor will first obtain a history of the patient’s symptoms and health over the past several years. Those who suffer from shoulder arthritis typically report an increase in pain over several years. The doctor will ask if the patient has any conditions that may be the underlying cause of osteoarthritis such as:

·  Previous trauma or surgery to the shoulder

·  An infection in the shoulder

·  A previous rotator cuff tear: sometime a ‘reverse’ total shoulder replacement is needed.

·  Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in other joints

·  Work and sports which may lead to accelerated arthritis


Next, the doctor will do a physical examination of the shoulder to evaluate the symptoms and reveal other conditions that may exist.


X-ray imaging of the shoulder can confirm a diagnosis of glenohumeral arthritis. With x-ray, the doctor can see structural changes that indicate arthritis, such as:

  • Irregularity of the joint surface

  • Osteophytes, typically located on the lower part of the joint

  • Bone erosion on the humeral head, glenoid, or both. Glenoid bone loss is often visible on the backside of the joint.


Other Imaging techniques used to make the diagnosis include:

  • CT-Scan (Computer Tomography) – This test is the best way for your surgeon to measure the extent of glenoid bone loss and any anatomic abnormalities that may affect treatment. It is also very helpful for taking accurate measurements for surgical planning purposes.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) Although not as commonly used to diagnose arthritis as other imaging studies, an MRI can provide detailed information about the soft tissue structures of the joint.


How is glenohumeral arthritis treated?


Non-Operative Treatment


Mild glenohumeral arthritis is often manageable with a regimen of:

  • Rest

  • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines) – such as ibuprofen or naproxen

  • Exercises to increase range of motion and strength

Mild to moderate glenohumeral arthritis pain is often effectively controlled by using any one or a combination of the follow treatments:

  • Corticosteroid injections (cortisone shots) may be recommended for select cases that do not respond to NSAIDS. A concentrated dose of anti-inflammatory medicine is injected directly into the joint and can be used to manage pain. However, injections do not generally provide long-term relief for advanced cases of arthritis of the shoulder joint. It does not cure the disease.

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin are non-prescription supplements that may help neutralize the destructive enzymes associated with osteoarthritis. Some patients may feel relief as a result of using these agents, but they are unable to ‘regrow’ new cartilage. More research is needed to evaluate the full extent of their effectiveness.

  • Viscosupplementation therapy improves the cushioning of the joint surfaces and has gained

popularity in the last few years. Hyaluronic acid is injected directly into the joint in order to improve joint lubrication and reduce friction during movement. Hyaluronic compounds are generally safe although there have been reports of inflammatory reactions in patients treated with some preparations. Most of the studies on viscosupplementation have been done on the knee, so it is less clear what effects this type of treatment will have on the arthritic shoulder.

  • PRP (Platelet-rich-plasma) or Stem-Cell Injections have not been shown to reverse or consistently treat the symptoms of shoulder arthritis.


When severe shoulder arthritis pain is unmanageable with non-operative measures, surgical treatment may be recommended.

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