Arthritis of the Shoulder


When the cartilage protecting your shoulder joint breaks down, you may develop arthritis of the shoulder. The smooth surface of the cartilage softens, becomes pitted and frayed. The cartilage losses its elasticity. It is more easily damaged by excess use or injury.

With time, sections of cartilage may wear away, causing bones to rub together. The bone at the edge of the joint may grow outward and form bony spurs. Bits of bone or cartilage may float in the spaces between and around the bones of the joint. When the joints swell and are damaged, they can be painful and stiff. The pain can vary from mild to severe, depending on the amount of damage to the joint, the type of arthritis and your activity level.


Your shoulder joint feels stiff and heavy and tires easily. The stiffness is usually worse in the morning, and may slowly improve with stretching and other moderate exercises. Also, grinding in the shoulder is a common sign of arthritis.

Causes and Risk Factors

Anyone can develop arthritis, but it most often occurs in patients who are middle-aged or older. The condition may occur on its own or because of trauma such as a fracture or dislocation or an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.


Most advanced cases of arthritis can be diagnosed with an X-ray. Sometimes, with rheumatoid or other types of inflammatory arthritis, special blood tests or other evaluations are needed.


The treatment of shoulder arthritis depends on severity and pain. Treatment options include any or a combination of the following:

  • Conservative medical care
  • Physical therapy, particularly hydrotherapy (therapeutic exercises done in a swimming pool), is soothing, helps maintain or regain range of motion of the joint and strengthens the surrounding muscles.
  • Arthroscopic surgery
  • Shoulder joint replacement

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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