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Ouch! What to Do About Shoulder Arthritis

Dr. Michael A. Schwartz, Orthopedic Surgery

February 22, 2022

Ouch! What to Do About Shoulder Arthritis

Left untreated, shoulder arthritis is a pain in the … well, shoulder. It’s a common but often overlooked concern that causes severe discomfort, stiffness, and limited range of motion in many of my patients. However, it is not always obvious if your shoulder pain is in fact arthritis or if it’s instead due to routine soreness, a mild overuse injury, or even another shoulder condition such as frozen shoulder.

To shed some light on the condition, let’s break down some of the common concerns and questions surrounding shoulder arthritis.

What is shoulder arthritis?

It is a degeneration (wearing away or breaking down) of the lining cartilage of the shoulder joint. Normally, there is a smooth lining surface in our joints; arthritis occurs when this smooth lining is either partially or fully worn away.

What are the symptoms?

Typically, shoulder arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and limitations with functions including everyday tasks such as getting dressed or washing your hair, as well as difficulty performing exercises that utilize shoulder movement, including swimming, tennis, or weight lifting.

Who is likely to get shoulder arthritis?

Often it is more typically seen in those who have a long history of being active with their shoulders and arms – for instance, those who work in such industries as heavy construction or have been involved in athletics, including contact sports or weightlifting. Is it also seen more frequently in those over the age of 50, and is slightly more common in women than in men.

What are the treatment options?

Treating shoulder arthritis takes on many forms, from basic over-the-counter pain medication all the way through advanced surgeries. Some of the most common include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/medications (NSAID).
  • Cortisone injections.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Surgery (usually shoulder replacement, occasionally minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgery).

Most patients will need a combination of treatments to achieve optimal relief. It is best to speak with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss what options may be right for you.

Nonoperative treatments

We are able to treat many shoulder arthritis patients with effective nonsurgical options. One of my patients, for example, is a 51-year-old male who is an avid weight lifter. He was suffering from shoulder arthritis but wanted to remain active. After our consultation, he decreased the weight lifting, modified his CrossFit routine to eliminate any overhead lifting, and added more cardio exercise – he lost approximately 15-20 pounds as a result! – and by working with a physical therapist, modified which shoulder exercises he would focus on.

He still takes an NSAID medication on days when the pain flares up, but these modifications have been enough to prevent the need for surgery. He also received a cortisone injection and tried a “gel” hyaluronic acid injection, both of which gave him partial, temporary relief.

Surgical treatments

Luckily for area residents, White Plains Hospital offers a variety of best-in-class surgical treatments for shoulder arthritis. Some of the new and exciting options we offer at the Hospital include:

  • Humeral head resurfacing: This is the most natural feeling of the arthroplasty options; the procedure preserves all of the bone surrounding the joint. It’s only indicated for milder cases of shoulder arthritis and has better healing rates than traditional techniques.
  • Stemless total shoulder replacement: Preserves more of the bone surrounding the joint than a traditional total shoulder replacement, and also offers better healing rates than traditional techniques.
  • Mini-stem total shoulder replacement: Even this more invasive procedure still preserves more than traditional total shoulder replacements.

Patients who undergo surgery for shoulder arthritis at White Plains Hospital have excellent outcomes. Take another one of my patients, for example: A 47-year-old male who works as a martial arts instructor was experiencing worsening shoulder pain and stiffness. It was affecting all of his activities, including his work and even simple daily tasks such as tucking in his shirt and combing his hair.

After dealing with symptoms for more than two years and seeking temporary relief via cortisone injections, he eventually underwent left total shoulder replacement surgery. This was followed by three months of physical therapy and a continued home exercise program. He was so pleased with the left shoulder replacement surgery that he proceeded to have a right total shoulder replacement surgery 11 months later! Today, he is back to all of his activities, including martial arts and weight lifting.

Whether a surgical or nonsurgical route is the best option for you, rest assured that shoulder arthritis doesn’t have to keep you sidelined from life. Working with an orthopedic specialist, you can find the right course of treatment to improve your shoulder pain and get back to the activities you love.

Dr. Michael A. Schwartz

Dr. Michael A. Schwartz is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in treatment of the shoulder, elbow and knee. He sees patients in White Plains and New Rochelle. Please call 914-849-7897 to make an appointment.