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Shoulder Pain – Could it be arthritis?

Shoulder pain is a common injury across the Triangle and the nation. In 2011, the National Health Interview Survey revealed that more than 50 million people in the U.S. reported they had been diagnosed with some form of arthritis.

What are the symptoms of shoulder (glenohumeral) arthritis?

The most common symptom of shoulder arthritis is pain that is aggravated by activities requiring motion through the shoulder. Patients describe a deep, aching pain in the back of the shoulder that may change with the weather and affect their sleep. Shoulder arthritis also causes stiffness and a loss of motion.  Some people may have trouble with simple tasks, such as combing one’s hair or reaching for an object on a shelf.

How is shoulder arthritis diagnosed?

Shoulder arthritis is diagnosed using a combination of the patient’s complaints, a physical exam, and carefully obtained X-rays. The X-rays will reveal the loss of space between the ball and socket that is normally occupied by cartilage.

What are the treatment options for shoulder arthritis?

The treatment for shoulder arthritis depends on the severity of the arthritis, the severity of the patient’s symptoms, and the patient’s goals and desires. All cases of shoulder arthritis should be first treated with intermittent oral anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Some patients with mild-to-moderate arthritis may experience pain relief with a steroid injection. Surgery is only recommended for patients whose shoulder pain greatly affects their quality of life and whose pain is unrelieved by non-operative measures.

What are the surgical options for shoulder arthritis?

 In a conventional total shoulder replacement, a metal ball replaces the humeral head and the socket is resurfaced with a high-density plastic (polyethylene). A conventional shoulder replacement is less effective in patients with a large rotator cuff tear or a deformed socket. These patients are better served by a reverse total shoulder replacement, in which the metal ball is secured to the native socket and the plastic cup is secured to the upper end of the humerus.

While shoulder arthritis is often tolerated more easily than hip and knee arthritis, it can cause symptoms that range from mildly irritating to quite disabling.

No matter the case, know that there are many effective treatment options. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, as described above, I urge you to visit an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in shoulder replacement.