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Shoulder Pain? Don’t Shrug It Off

More than 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, and those numbers continue to grow. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is simply the breakdown or loss of cartilage over time. Without cartilage, the joint doesn’t move as well, causing inflammation and pain. Most people associate hips and knees with arthritis pain, but the shoulder is also commonly affected.

Symptoms of Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder osteoarthritis can be caused by trauma or injury to the shoulder, repetitive high-demand use, genetics, and age. Symptoms usually appear after the age of 50. Many patients have pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Often, the stiffness occurs in the morning and motion improves throughout the day. Pain is usually a dull ache in the back or front of the shoulder. Sometimes there is catching or popping associated with motion. Patients also notice loss of strength and function of the shoulder.

An X-ray can usually diagnose shoulder arthritis. Sometimes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is performed to determine the status of the rotator cuff or other soft-tissue structures.

Treatment Options

Nonsurgical treatment is usually tried first. Anti-inflammatories can relieve pain by decreasing inflammation within the shoulder joint. Sometimes a cortisone shot is given. Cortisone is a steroid that acts in the joint to decrease the inflammation. Physical therapy is important for maintaining and improving shoulder motion, strength, and function. Many of the exercises can easily be done at home with a well-designed program.

The goal of surgical treatment is to reduce pain. If the arthritis is mild, a simple shoulder arthroscopy may be performed to remove bone spurs and loose bodies. For severe arthritis, shoulder replacement may be necessary. The arthritic joint is replaced with metal and plastic components similar to hip and knee replacements.

If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, talk with an orthopedic specialist to discuss your options.


Kyle Swanson, MD, is a Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physician at Barton Health’s offices in South Lake Tahoe, Zephyr Cove, and Carson City. To make an appointment, call 530.543.5554. For more information on expert orthopedic shoulder care and complementing therapies, visit BartonOrthopedicsAndWellness.com.