Overcoming Shoulder Arthritis

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder is a condition that occurs when the cartilage that lines the “ball and socket” of the shoulder joint is worn.  With overuse and poor movement mechanics, the incidence of shoulder arthritis increases with age. However, arthritis can also develop in younger people after a traumatic event (e.g. fall or athletic injury) or surgery to a joint.

Common symptoms of shoulder arthritis include pain with activities that subsides with rest, decreased shoulder mobility (e.g. difficulty when reaching back as if grabbing a seat belt), weakness, stiffness and eventual difficulty using the affected arm, pain at rest and difficulty sleeping as the condition worsens.

A medical diagnosis of shoulder arthritis is usually made following an x-ray.  As the cartilage wears down, it decreases the space between the bones visible on x-ray.  Assessing rehabilitation potential involves mobility, strength, and movement tests to assess how the arthritis is affecting normal shoulder function.  In many cases, an arthritic shoulder can demonstrate excellent rehabilitation potential despite x-ray findings.

Once we assess rehabilitation potential, our first recommendation is usually to take a short break from activity that results in sharp pain.  However, we caution against complete rest because this may lead to muscle atrophy and worsening of symptoms.

Relative rest, however, allows for an environment for irritation to settle down.  While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

In many cases, shoulder arthritis is coupled with poor mobility of the lats t-spine and neck.  This can be combined with weakness of the rotator cuff and the lat muscles.  In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and hip muscles, the way an active person moves can be affected which may lead to faulty shoulder mechanics. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment.

When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility.  If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the shoulder girdle with resistance.  We know for the shoulder to become durable at less prone to future degeneration, proper movement must be taught and a well designed strength and conditioning program must be initiated.

When addressed with a through physical therapy assessment and plan of care, shoulder arthritis is a condition that can be overcome.  However, ignoring symptoms and moving with poor mechanics can result in further degeneration.  If you feel like you may be developing shoulder arthritis, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

We have a free guide on relieving shoulder pain that can give you further insight into shoulder problems and help kickstart your recovery.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If your concerns warrant an in-person consultation, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits at our office.  This type of appointment of for those who are interested in working with us.  It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your condition, and develop confidence that we can help you.  If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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