Shoulder osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease of the shoulder. It is a progressive wearing down of the cartilage and other joint tissues including the bone and the joint capsule. There are three bones that come together to make up your shoulder. The “socket” of the shoulder is actually part of the shoulder blade or scapula. The “ball” of the joint is the top end of the arm bone or humerus. The joint created by the meeting of these bones is called the glenohumeral joint. The collar bone (clavicle) also connects to the tip of the shoulder (acromion) creating the acromioclavicular joint. Osteoarthritis (OA) in the shoulder is not as common as in the hip or knee, but it is estimated that 1 in 3 people over age 60 have shoulder OA to some degree. It affects the acromioclavicular joint more often than the glenohumeral joint.
Shoulder osteoarthritis can be either primary or secondary. Primary OA is related to age and genes. Secondary OA occurs as the result of previous injuries or dislocations. The pain from arthritis is aggravated by activity and gets progressively worse over time. As the disease progresses, the pain will occur even at rest and will begin to affect your sleep. It is also common to experience joint stiffness and grinding or clicking. Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed by physical examination and x-ray. Conservative treatments include anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injection. Physical or occupational therapy can help improve range of motion and strength and can provide relief from acute flares of pain during earlier stages of the disease. Heat can also provide temporary relief of pain and stiffness.
Surgical intervention can include arthroscopy or joint replacement. During an arthroscopy, the surgeon will “clean up” the inside of the joint and remove any bone spurs or loose pieces of cartilage. Rehab following this type of surgery typically lasts 4-6 weeks and helps you regain range of motion and strength. In advanced cases, surgical intervention typically involves joint replacement. After joint replacement, 4-8 weeks of rehab will help you regain fairly full range of motion and good strength at and below shoulder level. There is typically some weakness with overhead lifting, but pain is significantly improved.
Normal shoulder vs. early osteoarthritis