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Causes of Shoulder Arthritis

The most common cause leading to a shoulder replacement is osteoarthritis, or wear and tear arthritis. Osteoarthritis can occur without any injury to the shoulder, but it is uncommon. This is in large part because the shoulder is not a weight-bearing joint. Wear and tear arthritis is more common in the hip and knee. More commonly, osteoarthritis occurs many years after an injury to the shoulder. A shoulder dislocation can result in instability of the shoulder that leads to chronic instability. Repeated dislocations over many years damage the joint leading to arthritis. Some fractures of the shoulder can also lead to arthritis. The problem with aseptic necrosis described above can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Arthritis of the Shoulder

Diagnosis of Arthritis of the Shoulder

The diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the shoulder begins with a complete history of the problem, followed by a physical examination of the shoulder. Your doctor will ask you about old injuries of the shoulder. He will ask about any other medical conditions and surgical conditions. A physical examination will be performed to try and determine how much strength and motion you have in the shoulder. Your doctor may look at other joints for other signs of systemic arthritis. X-rays of the shoulder will be necessary to make the diagnosis of osteoarthritis. X-rays will show the degree of changes in the bones of the shoulder and give some idea as to how much wear and tear is present. If your doctor is concerned that you also have a rotator cuff tendon tear, he may also suggest either an arthrogram or a MRI scan of the shoulder.

An arthrogram is a test where a special dye is injected into the shoulder joint. X-rays are taken to see if the dye leaks out of the shoulder joint. If it does, then a tear of the rotator cuff tendon is present. The MRI scan can also be used to actually look at the rotator cuff tendons and determine whether or not they are torn. An MRI scan is a special radiological test where magnetic waves are used to create pictures that look like slices of the shoulder. The MRI scan shows more than the bones of the shoulder. It can show the tendons as well, and whether there has been a tear in those tendons. The MRI scan is painless, and requires no needles or dye to be injected.

Non-Surgical Options

Assistive Devices for Patients with Shoulder Arthritis Pain and Stiffness

If you are suffering from shoulder arthritis, you may find it harder to perform everyday activities like reaching for items in your cabinets, driving, and getting dressed. You will find that there are many assistive devices available that can help you perform your daily activities. You should also work with your doctor or occupational therapist to find specific gadgets that may help you work, play and live.


Reachers are one of the most popular assistive devices for people with shoulder arthritis. Reachers allow you to pick up something without having to reach or bend for it. They come in a variety of sizes and styles so you may want to test one before purchasing.

Getting Dressed

Several companies sell clothes designed for people with shoulder arthritis. You can find clothes with larger armholes so that your shoulder doesn’t have to stretch too far. In addition, you can purchase buttoning aids and zipper pulls to help you get dressed.


To save your energy and joints, if possible, use a car that has electric windows, mirrors, seats and power steering. There are now devices that allow you to automatically start the car and unlock the doors. If you find it difficult to turn the wheel, there are gadgets you can attach to the steering wheel making it easier to grip.

You can buy most of these assistive devices in department stores, medical supply stores, through specialized mail-order catalogs, or through medical assistance web sites.

  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • American Association for Hand Surgery
  • American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The American Board of Pediatrics
  • North American Spine Society
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