Osteoarthritis of the shoulder is less common than osteoarthritis of the knee, but it is just as painful and the suffering of those affected is great. The disease cannot be cured. But numerous ways to alleviate the symptoms can help patients. Surgery may be the last resort as the disease progresses.
What is shoulder osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis of the shoulder describes a change in the shoulder joint that is caused by wear and tear. There is a gap filled with cartilage between the upper arm and the shoulder socket, which together form the shoulder joint. See bestitude for Meanings of Fear of Heights.
The job of this cartilage is to cushion the pressure that occurs when two bones meet at a joint and to distribute the stress evenly. If the cartilage mass decreases due to wear and tear, both parts of the joint rub increasingly tighter on each other. This friction causes further wear, inflammation, and pain.
Since the shoulder joint is normally less stressed than, for example, the hip or knee joint, which constantly have to carry and move the weight of the entire body, it is less likely to suffer from arthrosis than other joints.
If the disease still occurs, it can have various causes. Osteoarthritis is very often a symptom of advancing age and the associated wear and tear on the joints. However, it can also be the result of an accident, after a poorly healed fracture on the upper arm, for example, or an illness such as rheumatism, a circulatory disorder or a bacterial infection.
Family predisposition can also play a role. Regular, one-sided strain, such as during sports or at work, can also lead to shoulder arthrosis over a long period of time. Craftsmen can be just as affected as musicians or professional athletes.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Osteoarthritis of the shoulder begins insidiously and initially causes only minor symptoms. Although the patient feels pain from time to time, his actions and movements are hardly restricted. If left untreated, the pain worsens and leads to restricted movement.
Working overhead often seems impossible. The limitations of movement come in all directions. The arm can no longer be spread and reaching up will only be possible with pain.
Especially those who are active in sports and put a lot of strain on the shoulder will feel the pain and will no longer be able to strain the shoulder as usual. Especially sports where the focus is on the shoulder will then only be possible with pain. These include handball, tennis, shot put and volleyball.
The pain is worst when weight is placed on the shoulder and when the person is lying on their shoulder. In the case of advanced shoulder arthrosis, the joint also hurts at rest. If the patient restricts his movements more and more, a frozen shoulder occurs. To prevent the symptoms from increasing and becoming chronic, timely treatment of shoulder arthrosis is advisable.
Diagnosis & History
With osteoarthritis of the shoulder, the upper arm and shoulder socket rub against each other without being adequately protected by the cartilage in the joint. The result is pain from the mechanical friction, and later inflammation can also occur due to the lack of pressure equalization.
At first, the patient finds the movement of the arm, shoulder or head painful. A relieving posture is then often adopted, which leads to incorrect posture and incorrect loading of other muscles and joints, resulting in further pain. The mobility of the shoulder joint becomes severely restricted as the disease progresses, and the affected person also feels pain when resting or sleeping.
The joint can lose all mobility and become stiff. Daily tasks such as getting dressed can be made extremely difficult. For the diagnosis, a precise description of the symptoms and complaints is useful in an initial consultation. A physical exam can check the mobility of the joint.
An ultrasound examination, an X-ray and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) finally confirm whether shoulder arthrosis is actually present and to what extent the bone and cartilage wear has already progressed. If there is a suspicion that a bacterial or rheumatic disease is the cause, a puncture of the joint is appropriate.
In the case of shoulder arthrosis, the affected person must expect complications. These include primarily joint inflammation. Doctors then speak of activated arthrosis. It manifests itself through increased pain and swelling of the shoulder joint.
Complications arising from omarthrosis often affect the patient’s everyday life. They often suffer from limitations in their freedom of movement and sharp pains. As a result, the affected person can no longer carry out normal everyday activities unhindered. If additional loads are placed on the shoulder joint, there is a risk of bone damage later on. There is a risk that the bone will splinter due to the intense friction and cause permanent damage.
How often complications of shoulder arthrosis appear and to what extent they occur varies from person to person. Pain-free periods of several months are just as possible as the disease progressing rapidly. In order to avoid serious consequences, it makes sense to consult a doctor to start treatment at an early stage. Sometimes surgery may also be necessary.
A rare consequence of surgery is the formation of inflammation, which in turn causes an abscess. Pus collects in a small cavity. This cavity in turn creates pressure on the adjacent tissue. In some cases, the pus penetrates into the bloodstream, posing a risk of blood poisoning (sepsis).
When should you go to the doctor?
In the case of shoulder arthrosis, the affected person always needs to see a doctor to avoid further complications and symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment of this disease can only prevent further symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if the patient suffers from severe limitations in the movement of the shoulders. Even slight and simple movements of the shoulders can cause severe pain, which can have a negative effect on everyday life and the quality of life of those affected.
It is not uncommon for the pain to spread to neighboring regions of the body. If the pain caused by osteoarthritis of the shoulder persists and does not go away on its own, you must see a doctor. You should consult a doctor, especially after an accident or after a serious injury.
In the case of shoulder arthrosis, a general practitioner or an orthopedist can be consulted. In most cases, the course of the disease is positive.
Treatment & Therapy
Shoulder arthrosis cannot be cured. Acute symptoms can be reduced by injecting painkillers and cortisone, and cold treatments are also found to be soothing.
Physiotherapy is possible once inflammation in the stressed areas of the joint has healed with medication and the patient is largely pain-free. Targeted exercises can be used to correct poor posture and strengthen muscles and tendons in order to relieve the skeleton as best as possible. X-ray stimulus radiation, microwave radiation and ultrasound can slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.
At a later stage, the shoulder joint can be cleaned by means of an arthroscopy and, under certain circumstances, the acromion bursa can be removed in the course of this procedure. If the joint is no longer in a condition worth preserving, it may be advisable to insert a prosthesis. Together with the patient, the doctor decides in each individual case which type of artificial joint makes the most sense. This essentially depends on the degree of damage to the shoulder joint.
The procedure is usually performed under general anesthesia and requires a rehabilitation phase lasting several weeks. After about three months, the first daily load on the shoulder is possible again. Such a prosthesis lasts about ten years on average.
Shoulder arthrosis, like any other arthrosis, can be prevented through sport. Stretching and warm-up exercises are particularly important. Sports such as swimming or cycling, which require regular movements and involve different areas of the muscles, are very suitable.
One-sided loads should be avoided. Movement generally promotes blood flow to the cartilage and thus its lifespan. Strong muscles also support the skeleton and help to relieve the bones. A healthy diet and normal weight are also important to keep joints healthy.
Since shoulder arthrosis cannot be cured, the patient will have to take care of his diseased shoulder for the rest of his life. Even after an operation, which can usually relieve the symptoms, there is no guarantee that osteoarthritis in the shoulder area will not recur.
Therefore, the aftercare remains with the recommendations that are also given for self-help and prevention. Muscle parts in the shoulder area, for example, should not be tensed on one side. For example, you can set up the workplace ergonomically and otherwise ensure sufficient breaks with appropriate relaxation.
Age-appropriate sport is essential for patients with shoulder arthrosis. The stretching exercises already learned through the physiotherapeutic treatments should be practiced further. Stretching courses, yoga or Pilates are also recommended. Anything that strengthens the muscles in the shoulder, neck, back and arm areas is also good. Physiotherapy or massages are recommended.
A healthy diet is also important. After all, the body’s immune system must be able to fight off inflammation and compensate for wear and tear. It can only do this if it is strengthened accordingly. A varied diet rich in vitamins ensures a strong immune system. In order not to destroy this effect, patients should avoid stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine.
You can do that yourself
Shoulder arthrosis (omarthrosis) is a disease that can be positively influenced with self-help, but is just as incurable as with conventional conventional medical treatment. The reason for this are the joint surfaces, the destruction of which cannot be reversed. Nevertheless, an attempt can be made to stimulate the formation of the synovia (joint fluid) through targeted movement, so that its gliding ability ensures that the joint surfaces do not rub too hard on each other. Movement stimulates the synovia in the joint space. This may bring some relief.
However, there is another reason why movement is of central importance in the context of self-help for shoulder arthrosis: if pain causes the patient to rest the joint, there is a risk that it will stiffen and the pain (including the immobility) will increase. This vicious cycle must be avoided at all costs and the cooperation of the patient is indispensable in this context. Exercises that train the rotator cuff are particularly important. These and others can be learned from a physiotherapist and carried out regularly at home on your own.
There are two other things that should be considered by patients with shoulder arthrosis. One-sided postures and movements should be avoided. It is also important to take a look at ergonomics in the workplace. Relaxation during breaks is also an important factor here. You should also make sure that you are comfortable in bed at night with a mattress that is straight on your shoulders.