In general, arthritis refers to a condition that leads to the degeneration and destruction of the surfaces of our joints. Instead of the super smooth surfaces our joints have when we are born, they begin to soften, then crack and fissure and ultimately expose the bone beneath the surface. This causes pain and deformity. Depending upon the joint involved and the amount of destruction and pain, surgery may be required to provide pain relief and improvement in function.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that affects the shoulder, as well as, all joints in our body. As we get less young (ie., older), many of us will develop osteoarthritis, more commonly in the major weight bearing joints, like our hips and knees. Since our shoulders hang from our bodies, arthritis is better tolerated in the shoulder and typically does not become a severe problem until much more destruction of the joint has taken place than what we could tolerate in our hips or knees.
Arthropathy and Inflammatory Arthritis
Another form of arthritis that affects the shoulder is called rotator cuff arthropathy. This is arthritis that results when someone has had a large rotator cuff tear for a long time. Patients with this condition are more likely to require a reverse total shoulder replacement. Arthritis that occurs after an injury is called post-traumatic arthritis. Some people have a chronic inflammatory arthritis that may affect many joints in the body. Types of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and many others.
The type of arthritis you have, the extent of damage to your joint, your age and rotator cuff integrity will all affect the surgical and non-surgical options to treat your shoulder pain and dysfunction. Sometimes a short course of an anti-inflammatory medication or a “cortisone shot”, and heat or ice will be all that is necessary to relieve the discomfort from an acute flare of arthritis. Typically, you should avoid repetitive lifting or heavy lifting with the affected shoulder. An isometric strengthening and flexibility program may help improve strength and range of motion of your shoulder and alleviate pain.