Part 1: Shoulder Arthritis – Treatments

Health and wellness experts have stressed the importance of beginning each day with optimism. But that can be hard when you wake up with what feels like a knife slicing through your shoulder from the inside out. 

Any form of inflammatory pain is unwelcome – including arthritic conditions. Anyone can develop arthritis; from a child just learning to work his swing to a retired golfer — and the truth is that it comes for everyone sooner or later. 

Typically, it will manifest through tenderness, swelling and stiffness as a result of inflammation. It can be a pain literally anywhere, in the neck, fingers, hips or shoulders. Even the mildest cases can compromise your independence, mobility, usefulness and quality of life. 

But the good news is that we can provide specialized care and expertise to help reduce your pain and help you live your best life. We can strategize and devise treatments that return you to sound health and an active lifestyle. 

What is shoulder arthritis?

Once seen as an ailment all on its own, arthritis is now an umbrella term for more than 100 related conditions – each with its own set of causes, symptoms, and treatments. These causes of these conditions may range from inherited genes, to physical trauma or the after-effects of a debilitating illness. However, the common factors are:

  • Some muscle, joint or fibrous tissue around the joint is affected
  • Pain and/or loss of movement
  • Inflammation/swelling

It is more likely, in the event of pain in your shoulder, that you are suffering from Osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis is common and is the result of the breakdown or erosion of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones within the joints. 

In this case, the arthritic inflammation in your joints lead to a progressive deterioration of cartilage and synovial fluid. As a result, you lose what essentially acts as shock absorbers and prevent excruciating pain when bones in the body inevitably grind together. So, the pain is exactly what results as these structures disappear. 

In the case of your shoulder, this is what limits your range of motion and causes blinding pain when you move your arm.  As the rough and porous surfaces of the bones in your shoulder continue to grind and diminish the cartilage via motion, even sleep can be disruptive and painful.

Your shoulder arthritis may also be a rheumatoid condition. In which case, it is the result of the immune system turning against your body, triggering inflammation and swelling that initiates in the joint lining (synovial tissue) and then systematically progresses into the cartilage and bone. In this case, it is often long-term and may result in irreversible joint damage.

Diagnosing Shoulder arthritis

One may think it difficult to detect arthritis early enough, especially with all the different types that exist. After all, pain in the joint is something we all feel sometimes, and all too often temporarily. Symptoms also vary from person to person in degree and acuteness. 

However, the tell-tale warning signs like chronic joint pain (which severity is sometimes affected by the weather), stiffness or immobility, and swelling in or around the shoulder joint should not be taken lightly if persistent or recurring. It is likewise a common symptom to feel something like bones locking or catching in your shoulder. 

There are also risk factors (i.e. inheritance, gender, obesity and infection) which help to inform any likelihood of an arthritic condition. For shoulder arthritis, any history of repetitive strain on your joints may be particularly informative in diagnosis. For example, if you are a baseball player, golfer or weekend volleyball player — it is not uncommon to develop shoulder arthritis.  

Fortunately, with improvements in medical diagnosis, scanning techniques for arthritis can now detected earlier and with greater precision. The Doctors at OA will initially conduct a physical examination and follow it up with an X-ray to analyze the space between the bones in your shoulder (ball-and-socket) joint to assess the extent of cartilage loss. Our team may use a range of techniques that would provide improved imaging compared to X-rays to examine and confirm (or discard) symptoms and patterns. Your doctor may also use Blood tests, and CT, MRI or Isotope bone scans if diagnosis remains in question.

Stay tuned for next week’s article where we look at treatment options for Shoulder Arthritis. If you need help with your shoulder please contact the team at Orthopedic Associates of Denver.

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