The symptoms of shoulder arthritis tend to progress gradually; sometimes shoulder osteoarthritis symptoms may seemingly get better, only to return.

Many people initially attribute shoulder soreness or stiffness to lack of exercise or getting older. However, shoulder arthritis can progress and eventually interrupt one’s ability to enjoy everyday activities. Early recognition of symptoms and appropriate activity modification and treatment can sometimes slow or eliminate progression of shoulder osteoarthritis symptoms.

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Below is an explanation of common signs and symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis.

    Joint tenderness and pain. Tenderness and pain due to glenohumeral osteoarthritis is usually centered at the back of the shoulder and can be felt in the middle-range of motion rather than at the extremes of flexibility. Those with moderate to severe glenohumeral arthritis may experience dull aching pain at night making it difficult to sleep. Pain may intensify with changes in the weather.1

    Stiffness or loss of motion. Aside from pain, a major symptom of shoulder arthritis is a decreased range of motion, even “passive” motion made with assistance.

    Catching. When the shoulder “catches” an otherwise fluid movement is unintentionally interrupted. Catching can be a sign of glenohumeral osteoarthritis and is often associated with popping or crunching sound.

    Shoulder popping or crunching. Feeling a crunching or hearing a popping sound when rotating the shoulder may be a sign that cartilage has worn away and is not protecting the bones from friction. The medical term for this symptom is “crepitus.”

    Weakness and muscle atrophy. Many people with shoulder arthritis avoid painful movements and lifting objects, which can in turn lead to muscle atrophy and weakness.

    Inactivity makes it worse. The shoulder can become stiff after long periods of inactivity (e.g. sleeping at night) and feel better after short bouts of moderate activity.

    • Shoulder pain that is worse after repetitive activity may be a symptom of Shoulder Bursitis

    Swelling. When arthritis causes friction between bones the surrounding soft tissue can become irritated and swell. Swelling can occur in shoulder arthritis, though can be less pronounced than it is in other types of arthritis, such as knee or hand arthritis.

In most but not all cases, the symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis come and go, becoming worse and more frequent over months or years. Shoulder osteoarthritis pain may flare up after high intensity activities, such as tennis or golf.

References:

  1. "Arthritis of the Shoulder," American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, accessed September 8, 2011, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org.
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