Shoulder Arthritis Treatment

  • In shoulder arthritis, the cartilage in your shoulder gets damaged & worn
  • Shoulder arthritis can lead to shoulder pain, stiffnwss, clicking and stiffness
  • There are several non-operative ways to treat shoulder arthritis
  • If you have persistent pain & weakness, you may need surgery
  • The main surgery done for shoulder arthritis is a shoulder replacement

What is Shoulder Arthritis?

Shoulder arthritis is joint inflammation leading to damage to the cartilage of the shoulder joint, the glenohumeral joint. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint allowing large range of motion. It is formed by the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) and the shallow socket of the shoulder blade (glenoid). Both the humeral head and the glenoid are lined by a layer of cartilage. This allows smooth movement of your shoulder with minimal friction and without any pain.

In shoulder arthritis, the cartilage gets inflamed, damaged and wears away over time. This exposes the bone underneath the cartilage and leads to bone-on-bone contact. This can result in pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion of your shoulder. There are different causes of shoulder arthritis, including:


  1. Primary Osteoarthritis: This is the most common form of arthritis and occurs due to the natural wear and tear of the joint over time. It typically affects older individuals and can lead to joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function.
  2. Cuff-tear arthritis: A specific type of shoulder arthritis that occurs when a severe rotator cuff tear leads to degenerative changes in the shoulder joint.
  3. Post-traumatic arthritis: This type of arthritis can develop after a shoulder injury or fracture. The trauma can damage the joint structures, leading to cartilage degeneration and subsequent arthritis.
normal shoulder joint

Normal Shoulder

In a normal shoulder X-ray, the shoulder joint has a smooth outline with a symmetrical outline of the joint.

shoulder arthritis

Shoulder Arthritis

In shoulder arthritis (arrow), the shoulder joint is narrow leading to joint stiffness and pain.

What does shoulder arthritis feel like?

The symptoms of shoulder arthritis can vary but most frequently include:

  • Pain: Pain is the most common symptom of shoulder arthritis. This may feel like a deep ache within the shoulder. I can be at different locations in your shoulder (front, side or at the back of the shoulder) depending on which type of arthritis you have. Pain may be more noticeable with movement, activities or at night.
  • Stiffness: Stiffness is another common symptoms. You may find that you cannot lift your arm above you head or it may be difficult to reach out to the side. As you shoulder joint gets stiff with arthritis, you shoulder blade may hitch, and move instead of the shoulder joint as a way to compensate for the shoulder joint stiffness.
  • Clicking: Mechanical symptoms can occur with shoulder arthritis. This may include locking, grinding or popping of your shoulder.
  • Weakness: Depending on why you have shoulder arthritis, you may feel that you shoulder is weak, particularly as you try to raise your arm above your head. 

What is the best treatment for arthritis in the shoulder?

Treatment for shoulder arthritis depends on the severity of your symptoms and the impact shoulder arthritis has on your function, daily activities or on your work. Many patients do not surgery for shoulder arthritis and can manage the symptoms of shoulder arthritis with several non-surgical treatment options:

  • Rest and activity modification: Avoid activities that aggravate your shoulder and allow your shoulder to rest. Using a sling on occasion may help you with pain.
  • Pain management: It is best to stick to simple pain relief, such as Paracetamol (Panadol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs; Neurofen). Long-term use of strong pain killers should ideally be avoided, but can be used for a brief period if you exacerbation of your pain.
  • Physical therapy: Specific exercises and stretching of your shoulder may be helpful. Your physiotherapist can guide you through strengthen exercises and stretching of your shoulder.
  • Heat/ cold: You shoulder may respond to heating or cooling, especially if you have a spike of pain. Heating tends to work better iun the colder months and cooling in summer time. However, it is best to trial what gives you the best relief.

Do alternative treatments work for shoulder arthritis?

Alternative treatments for shoulder arthritis includes acupuncture/dry needling, platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, joint fluid supplements (e.g. Durolane and Monovisc) or manipulation. None of these measures have been shown to provide any long-term, beneficial effects for shoulder arthritis. In some cases, however, you may find some benefits with alternative treatments. If you would like to explore non-surgical, alternative treatments for your shoulder it best to get guidance with this from your GP or from a dedicated musculoskeletal physician. The Wakefield Sports Clinic has a dedicate team of musculoskeletal physician that can help you.

What not to do with shoulder arthritis?

There are usually no specific restictions with shoulder arthritis. You can and are encouraged to stay active and use your shoulder as you tolerate. It is important to maintain good shoulder health by maintaining range of motion and strength of you shoulder muscles. The only thing to avoid, especially if your pain is worsening and you are considering surgery, are steroid injections. Steroids injection into your shoulder generally not provide long-term benefits and can significantly increase infection rates with surgery.

Can surgery fix shoulder arthritis?

If you have exhausted all non-surgical options or if your shoulder arthritis symptoms are severe, you may need surgery. The main procedure done for shoulder arthritis is a shoulder replacement or also known as shoulder arthroplasty. It is a reliable and definitive way to treat your shoulder arthritis. It involves replacing the ball and socket of your joint with an implant.

The primary aim of shoulder shoulder replacement surgery is to improve your shoulder function by removing pain. A shoulder replacement may also increase your range of motion, especially if you have had associated shoulder stiffness. A shoulder replacement is major operation. You will need time to heal and recover. After surgery, you will have follow-up with a physiotherapist, who will guide you through your rehabilitation and work on your range of motion and shoulder strength.

anatomic shoulder replacement

Shoulder Replacement

With a shoudler replacement the ball and socket joint is replaced with an implant to reduce your pain and improve your shoulder function.

Get Expert Help

Everyone responds differently to shoulder arthritis and your specic symptoms can vary. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, limited mobility, or other concerning symptoms, Dr. Arthur Turow can assess your shoulder, provide you with an accurate diagnosis and suggest appropriate treatment options specific for your individual needs.

Please use above information as a guide only. More detailed information specific to your condition and your recovery will be given in your consultation with Dr. Arthur Turow, who will also provide additional resources to supplement your discussion. For more information, please contact the rooms of Dr. Arthur Turow on (08) 8236 4179.