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Shoulder Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Arthritis of the Shoulder)

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How Is Shoulder Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

To diagnose shoulder osteoarthritis, the doctor will take a medical history and do a physical exam to assess pain, tenderness, and loss of motion and to look for other signs in surrounding tissues. At this point, the doctor may be able to tell if the muscle near the joint has signs of atrophy, or weakness, from lack of use.

Tests that might be ordered to diagnose osteoarthritis of the shoulder include:

  • X-rays
  • Blood tests, mainly to look for rheumatoid arthritis, but also to exclude other diseases
  • Removal of synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid in the lining (synovium) of the joint, for analysis
  • MRI scans

 

How Is Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder Treated?

The first treatments for osteoarthritis, including osteoarthritis of the shoulder, do not involve surgery. These treatments include:

  • Resting the shoulder joint. This could mean that the person with arthritis has to change the way he moves the arm while performing the activities of daily living. For example, the person might wear clothing that zips up the front instead of clothing that goes over the head. Or the person might prop up hairdryers instead of holding them up for long periods of time.
  • Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These drugs, also called NSAIDS, will reduce inflammation and pain. Check with your doctor to make sure you can take these drugs safely.
  • Performing physical therapy as assigned by the doctor.
  • Performing range-of-motion exercises. These exercises are used as an attempt to increase flexibility.
  • Applying moist heat.
  • Applying ice to the shoulder. Ice is applied for 20 minutes two or three times a day to decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Using other medications prescribed by the doctor. These might include injections of corticosteroids, for example.
  • Taking the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. Many people claim relief with these supplements. Evidence is conflicting as to whether they really help. You should discuss using these with your doctor because the supplements may interact with other drugs.

If nonsurgical treatments do not work effectively, there are surgeries available. As with any surgery, there are certain risks and potential complications, including infection or problems with anesthesia. Surgical treatments include:

  • Shoulder joint replacement (total shoulder arthroplasty). Replacing the whole shoulder with an artificial joint is usually done to treat arthritis of the glenohumeral joint.
  • Replacement of the head of the humerus, or upper arm bone (hemiarthroplasty). This option, too, is used to treat arthritis of the glenohumeral joint.
  • Removal of a small piece of the end of the collarbone (resection arthroplasty). This option is the most common surgery for treating arthritis of the AC joint and associated rotator cuff problems. After the removal of the end of the bone, the space fills with scar tissue.
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