Shoulder Osteoarthritis

Vector Smart Object shoulder and elbow

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What is shoulder osteoarthritis?

Shoulder osteoarthritis - sometimes referred to as glenohumeral osteoarthritis - is a condition which affects shoulder movement, causing pain and stiffness. The condition can make it hard to perform everyday activities, or play certain sports. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis which affects the shoulder.

The condition leads to damaged cartilage, the formation of bone spurs, bone lesions, inflammation and damage to other soft tissues.

What causes shoulder osteoarthritis?

While the root cause of osteoarthritis is not yet known, there are several risk factors, including; overuse of the shoulder joint; injury to the joint, including a dislocation or broken bone; old age; poor bone alignment; other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, septic arthritis or gout. There is also a genetic element. Research has also shown that overweight individuals are more likely to develop shoulder osteoarthritis. Shoulder osteoarthritis is more common in women.

Symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis?

The common symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis are; pain, which is typically felt at the back of the shoulder; tenderness; stiffness; difficulty sleeping at night due to flareups of pain; crepitus, which is a crunching sensation or popping sound when the shoulder is rotated; a worsening of symptoms after a period of inactivity; muscle weakness; swelling due to the soft tissues in the shoulder becoming irritated; and the shoulder catching during movement.

There are other conditions which share some of the symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Treatment options for shoulder osteoarthritis

The diagnostic process for shoulder osteoarthritis typically begins with an interview of the patient and a physical examination. Medical history can be reviewed, and imaging tests such as Xrays, CT scan, ultrasound and MRI scan can be used to confirm the condition and rule out the possibility that there is another source of shoulder pain; such as subacromial impingement, a rotator cuff tear, or a frozen shoulder.

There are a range of conservative treatments which can be effective in addressing shoulder osteoarthritis. They include home treatments such as; periodic rest, which can relieve pain in the shoulder joint; the modification of activities which are aggravating the shoulder joint, including certain sports; and a cold or warm compress, such as applying ice packs or a warming pad.

Physiotherapy can help to strengthen and stretch the shoulder muscles which play a key role in supporting the shoulder joint. Medications which are proven to be effective in treating shoulder osteoarthritis include; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, prescription oral medication, and topical medications. Steroid injections and hyaluronic acid injections can reduce inflammation and ease pain.

Surgery for shoulder osteoarthritis can be advised for cases in which the treatments outlined above have proven ineffective. Procedures include; shoulder debridement, which removes loose cartilage pieces; and shoulder replacement (arthroplasty).

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