Five Non-Surgical Ways to Treat Shoulder Osteoarthritis

A woman stretching her shoulder.
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Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition categorized by the gradual wearing away of joint cartilage. Each joint in your body has a limited supply of articular cartilage and the more you use your joints, the more likely you are to wear your cartilage down. Because cartilage cushions your bones, osteoarthritis can cause pain and stiffness. Treatment for this condition varies depending on the severity of damage present and the affected joint.

Shoulder osteoarthritis treatment will vary depending on the patient’s individual case.

Three Types of Shoulder Arthritis

Living with shoulder arthritis is challenging without knowing exactly what is going on inside your joints. Below are descriptions of the different forms of arthritis that commonly impact the shoulder, as well as anatomical details of your shoulder’s key functions.

Osteoarthritis: As previously mentioned, this disease develops gradually, therefore it is most commonly found in older adult patients. In fact, it is estimated that approximately one in three people over the age of 60 have shoulder osteoarthritis. A shoulder specialist can confirm an osteoarthritis diagnosis by referring to x-ray images of the affected joint.

Posttraumatic Arthritis: This condition is actually a type of osteoarthritis that can form after a traumatic event impacts the joint. For example, if you collide with a teammate during sports play and end up fracturing one of the bones in your shoulder, you have a greater chance of developing arthritis later in life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: In contrast to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by the immune system’s tendency to attack its own tissues. This form of arthritis causes the joint lining or synovium to swell and become inflamed.

Technically, there are two joints that make up the shoulder: the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion (tip of the shoulder blade), and the glenohumeral joint, where the head of the humerus (armbone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade). Shoulder osteoarthritis is most often found in the AC joint.

Five Non-Operative Shoulder Osteoarthritis Treatments

In order to manage your arthritis, talk to a doctor about the best shoulder osteoarthritis treatment options for you. An orthopaedic specialist will likely recommend a combination of the following five care methods.

Activity Modification: Perhaps your work or personal life requires you to put too much strain on your shoulders daily. Modify your upper body activity levels and give your shoulders a rest. Overexerting yourself can aggravate these joints, causing more severe shoulder pain and inflammation.

Ice or Heat Therapy: Icing your shoulder for about 20 minutes two to three times a day can reduce swelling. Alternating with a moist heat pad can ease the pain, as well. Ask your arthritis doctor about when you should apply ice and heat during the day.

Pain Medications: Over-the-counter medications can improve symptoms of arthritis. Your physician may prescribe something stronger, depending on the severity of your pain and swelling. With medications, always follow your doctor’s instructions exactly as directed.

Physical Therapy: While rest is an important part of any healing process, movement is especially important for patients with arthritis. A physical therapist can help you stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint. Strengthening exercises, in particular, can decrease the chance of an overuse shoulder injury in the future.

Cortisone Injections: This is a more direct medication option that must be administered in-office by a specialist. Cortisone injections can help control symptoms and reduce pain.

Most cases of arthritis are treated without surgery. However, if the joint damage is so severe that the patient’s pain is unmanageable or significantly impacting quality of life, a specific shoulder procedure may be recommended.

Types of Shoulder Surgery

A patient will only undergo shoulder surgery if non-operative methods have been proven ineffective.

Shoulder Arthroscopy

Shoulder arthroscopy is surgery where a camera called an arthroscope is inserted to examine or repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint. The arthroscope is inserted through a small incision in the skin. It’s often effective for some specific symptoms of shoulder arthritis.

Shoulder Replacement Surgery

In this procedure the arthritic cartilage is removed and a metal and plastic implant is placed in the shoulder. This is an excellent option to relieve pain associated with severe shoulder arthritis.

At AdventHealth and Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, our specialists use evidence-based medicine to determine the cause of joint discomfort and the best available option for care. Our shoulder doctors understand the debilitating and frustrating nature of osteoarthritis, so we aim to provide expert treatment and get you healthy as quickly and safely as possible.

Here to Keep You Healthy

Have you heard? We've joined forces with Rothman Orthopaedics, one of the nation’s top orthopedic programs, to create a groundbreaking, comprehensive specialty network that is the new gold standard in quality, innovation, research and whole-person care.

This visionary partnership will expand the possibilities for world-class treatment for a variety of orthopedic services, including joint replacement, fracture care, reconstruction of the knee, shoulder, elbow and hand and treatments for arthritis and osteoporosis. Together, our leading-edge providers comprise a powerhouse of innovation focused on developing new treatments and widening accessibility to top-level care while raising the bar for orthopedic excellence.

Learn more at

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