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Arthritis of Shoulder

Arthritis-of-shoulder

Arthritis of the Shoulder

In 2011, more than 50 million people in the United States reported that they had been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, according to the National Health Interview Survey. Simply defined, arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. In a diseased shoulder, inflammation causes pain and stiffness.

Although there is no cure for arthritis of the shoulder, there are many treatment options available. Using these, most people with arthritis are able to manage pain and stay active.

Anatomy

Your shoulder is made up of three bones: your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula), and your collarbone (clavicle).

The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid. A combination of muscles and tendons keeps your arm bone centered in your shoulder socket. These tissues are called the rotator cuff.

Illustration of normal shoulder anatomy
The bones and joints of the shoulder.
Reproduced with permission from J Bernstein, ed: Musculoskeletal Medicine. Rosemont, IL, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2003. 

There are two joints in the shoulder, and both may be affected by arthritis. One joint is located where the clavicle meets the tip of the shoulder blade (acromion). This is called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint.

Where the head of the humerus fits into the scapula is called the glenohumeral joint.

To provide you with effective treatment, your physician will need to determine which joint is affected and what type of arthritis you have.

Description

Five major types of arthritis typically affect the shoulder.

Osteoarthritis

Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition that destroys the smooth outer covering (articular cartilage) of bone. As the cartilage wears away, it becomes frayed and rough, and the protective space between the bones decreases. During movement, the bones of the joint rub against each other, causing pain.

Osteoarthritis usually affects people over 50 years of age and is more common in the acromioclavicular joint than in the glenohumeral shoulder joint.

Illustration and x-ray showing osteoarthritis of the shoulder(Left) An illustration of damaged cartilage in the glenohumeral joint. (Right) This x-ray of the shoulder shows osteoarthritis and decreased joint space (arrow).
 

(Left) Reproduced with permission from JF Sarwark, ed: Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, ed 4. Rosemont, IL, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2010.
 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that attacks multiple joints throughout the body. It is symmetrical, meaning that it usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body.

The joints of your body are covered with a lining — called synovium — that lubricates the joint and makes it easier to move. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the lining to swell, which causes pain and stiffness in the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks its own tissues. In RA, the defenses that protect the body from infection instead damage normal tissue (such as cartilage and ligaments) and soften bone.

Rheumatoid arthritis is equally common in both joints of the shoulder.

Posttraumatic Arthritis

Posttraumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis that develops after an injury, such as a fracture or dislocation of the shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy

Arthritis can also develop after a large, long-standing rotator cuff tendon tear. The torn rotator cuff can no longer hold the head of the humerus in the glenoid socket, and the humerus can move upward and rub against the acromion. This can damage the surfaces of the bones, causing arthritis to develop.

The combination of a large rotator cuff tear and advanced arthritis can lead to severe pain and weakness, and the patient may not be able to lift the arm away from the side.

Illustration of rotator cuff arthropathy

Rotator cuff arthropathy.

Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis (AVN) of the shoulder is a painful condition that occurs when the blood supply to the head of the humerus is disrupted. Because bone cells die without a blood supply, AVN can ultimately lead to destruction of the shoulder joint and arthritis.

Avascular necrosis develops in stages. As it progresses, the dead bone gradually collapses, which damages the articular cartilage covering the bone and leads to arthritis. At first, AVN affects only the head of the humerus, but as AVN progresses, the collapsed head of the humerus can damage the glenoid socket.

Causes of AVN include high dose steroid use, heavy alcohol consumption, sickle cell disease, and traumatic injury, such as fractures of the shoulder. In some cases, no cause can be identified; this is referred to as idiopathic AVN.

Symptoms

Pain. The most common symptom of arthritis of the shoulder is pain, which is aggravated by activity and progressively worsens.

  • If the glenohumeral shoulder joint is affected, the pain is centered in the back of the shoulder and may intensify with changes in the weather. Patients complain of an ache deep in the joint.
  • The pain of arthritis in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint is focused on the top of the shoulder. This pain can sometimes radiate or travel to the side of the neck.
  • Someone with rheumatoid arthritis may have pain throughout the shoulder if both the glenohumeral and AC joints are affected.

Limited range of motion. Limited motion is another common symptom. It may become more difficult to lift your arm to comb your hair or reach up to a shelf. You may hear a grinding, clicking, or snapping sound (crepitus) as you move your shoulder.

As the disease progresses, any movement of the shoulder causes pain. Night pain is common and sleeping may be difficult.

Doctor Examination

Medical History and Physical Examination

After discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will examine your shoulder.

During the physical examination, your doctor will look for:

  • Weakness (atrophy) in the muscles
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Extent of passive (assisted) and active (self-directed) range of motion
  • Any signs of injury to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the joint
  • Signs of previous injuries
  • Involvement of other joints (an indication of rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Crepitus (a grating sensation inside the joint) with movement
  • Pain when pressure is placed on the joint

X-Rays

X-rays are imaging tests that create detailed pictures of dense structures, like bone. They can help distinguish among various forms of arthritis.

X-rays of an arthritic shoulder will show a narrowing of the joint space, changes in the bone, and the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes).

X-ray of severe osteoarthritis of the glenohumeral joint
This x-ray shows severe osteoarthritis of the glenohumeral joint.
Reproduced with permission from Crosby LA (ed): Total Shoulder Arthoplasty. Rosemont, IL, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2000, p 18. 

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may inject a local anesthetic into the joint. If it temporarily relieves the pain, the diagnosis of arthritis is supported.

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