Although the knees and the hips are most commonly affected by arthritis, the shoulder joint is no exception. Shoulder arthritis can affect anyone at any age, manifesting as joint stiffness, discomfort, and pain. It can make day-to-day activities painful and uncomfortable. However, with the help of some basic treatment methods, the pain can be managed successfully.
The most common types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder joints are osteoarthritis (degeneration of the cartilage in the joint), rheumatoid arthritis, or degeneration following an injury to the rotator cuff. If left untreated, shoulder arthritis can worsen into a severe degenerative condition.
“In osteoarthritis, there is a degeneration of the cartilage of the joint,” says Dr Sasmit Lotliker, interventional pain specialist at Manipal Hospitals, Goa. “Rheumatoid arthritis also affects the shoulder. The other common cause is rotator cuff injury. The tendons of the rotator cuff form a support system for the shoulder joint, and because of some improper movement or impingement, a tear occurs in the rotator cuff muscles. The tear gradually progresses into arthritis.”
Symptoms of shoulder arthritis
The most common symptoms are:
- Stiffness and pain in the joint.
- Reduced range of movement in the shoulder joint.
- Difficulty in doing day-to-day activities like combing your hair, buttoning your clothes, and lifting objects.
- Crackling sensation in the joints.
- Chronic pain.
Treatment for shoulder arthritis pain
Maintaining joint mobility is crucial for someone whose shoulder is affected by arthritis.
“Range-of-motion exercises should be prioritized over strengthening activities for shoulder arthritis,” says Dr Lotliker. “In the case of the elderly, their joints might have already degenerated, and strengthening exercises will lead to more wear and tear.”
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and cold packs can be used to relieve pain in its early stages. Although hot packs can be used, ice packs are advised over hot packs.
Active lifestyle key to avoid shoulder arthritis
Due to sedentary lifestyles, osteoarthritis, which typically affects the elderly, is now seen in those who are in their 40s and 50s.
Dr Lotliker emphasizes the need to lead an active lifestyle. People who are into desk jobs are more prone to shoulder arthritis since they spend most of their time sitting in front of the computer. So, in addition to regular exercise routines one should also be physically active throughout the day and take breaks from sitting hunched in front of laptops, mobiles, computers or television and other electronic devices.
Also, having a warm-up schedule before physical activity helps prevent shoulder joint deterioration and injuries.
- Shoulder arthritis is caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and degeneration following rotator cuff tear or injury.
- Improving the range of motion is one of the best ways to manage the condition. Exercises which improve the range of motion in the shoulder joint should be given preference over strengthening exercises as strengthening exercises can lead to more wear and tear to the already degenerated joints.