Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joint which affects the cartilage, or smooth gliding surface, of the ball and socket of the shoulder. Arthritis is usually due to years of wear and tear but can also occur as a long-term consequence of shoulder injury or instability (dislocations). When arthritis occurs, the smooth surface of the joint becomes irregular and rough, and bone spurs grow at the joint edges. This leads to pain and reduced mobility.
Shoulder arthritis is characterized by global, deep pain in the shoulder as well as loss of motion or stiffness. Arthritis of the shoulder is somewhat less common than that of the knee and hip (which bear most of the body weight). Thus, most patients with shoulder arthritis have a risk factor, such as a previous injury, family predisposition, or long period of overuse.
Shoulder arthritis is diagnosed through discussion with your doctor and a thorough exam. X-rays are very helpful to detect irregularity or narrowing of the joint space and bone spurs, which are common findings in arthritis. An MRI is usually not needed to make this diagnosis.
Treatment of shoulder arthritis is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the degree of joint damage. With early or mild arthritis, most patients will do well with activity modification, a strengthening program, anti-inflammatories, and consideration of a cortisone injection. When arthritis and symptoms are severe, a shoulder replacement or resurfacing can be a very successful technique for reducing or eliminating pain and restoring function.