Dear Reader,

Like my mother many people suffer from chronic severe shoulder pain caused by degenerative joint disease also known as osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the bone protective- or articular cartilage wears down and causes swelling, inflammation, and pain. In some cases bone spur (osteophytes) growth might occur, as bone rubs against bone. The shoulder is made up of two joints, the acromioclavicular (AC) joint and the glenohumeral joint. The AC joint is located where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion at the tip of the shoulder blade. The glenohumeral joint is the meeting point between the arm bone (humerus) and the scapular (shoulder blade).In the majority of cases osteoarthritis of the shoulder or any other joint for that matter is found in people age 50 or older. In the earlier years osteoarthritis is typically caused by a traumatic injury to the joint. A very small percentage of young osteoarthritis patients have a genetic predisposition to the joint disease that causes an early onset.

When seeing an orthopedic specialist, he/she will most commonly start the diagnostic process by establishing a medical history and perform a physical exam looking for swelling, pain and tenderness. Often muscular weaknesses surrounding the joint is found due to pain induced inactivity. In addition x-ray and MRI can produce imagery that details the degree of degeneration of the joint more accurately.

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder can be treated conventionally, through medication, and surgically. The first step of treatment is to rest the shoulder and modify activities involving the shoulder. The application of ice or heat packs to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain and improve mobility are typically temporarily and do not eliminate the cause. Your physician might prescribe a physical therapy program focused on  stretching and strengthening muscles to improve joint range of motion.

Should these conventional methods fail to bring relief medications such as Non-Steroidal-Anti Inflammatory-Drugs (NSAID’s: Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Aspirin) or Cox2 Inhibitors (Celebrex) can  be used to further reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Advanced stages and severe shoulder pain is often treated with corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections. Steroid injections reduce swelling and thereby alleviate pain and decrease joint stiffness. Hyaluronic acid injections are known as “viscosupplementation” and help lubricate the joint similar to the way W40 works on mechanic joints.
If all non-surgical options are exhausted your physician will suggest either a total shoulder replacement (arthroplasty) or a partial replacement in which only the head of the humerus is replaced (hemiarthroplasty). Both these surgeries are performed to treat osteoarthritis of the Glenohumeral joint. The removal of a small section of the end of the collarbone known as resection arthroplasty is the common surgical choice to treat osteoarthritis of the AC joint.

In recent years stem cell research has created new hope for osteoarthritis patients. In the last years stem cells who help heal and regrow cartilage were used in the repair of small cartilage defects. Currently studies are ongoing to explore whether the same treatment can help grow whole joint surfaces such as knees and hips in a lab to resurface the degenerated joint. For now this is still science fiction but there is a great deal of optimism and reason to be hopeful.

Many of my arthritic clients ask whether exercising is beneficial and whether I would recommend exercising while in pain. My answer to both questions is YES.

Our joints need movement! Movement nourishes and promotes joint health. Maintaining strong muscles will help support the weakened joint structure and reduce joint stress as you move. Stretching muscles and utilizing gentle mobilization exercises will help maintain good functional range of motion allowing for optimal use of the joint. Cardio-vascular exercises help in the prevention of diseases commonly known to be associated with inactivity and manage body weight therefore reducing impact on spine and joints. In addition learning meditation and relaxation techniques have shown to reduce stress and pain.

The exercise choices and the workloads when exercising with osteoarthritis depend on the severity of the disease as well a the timing. Workloads and work-out intensities have to be reduced when training an arthritic joint. Certain exercises might require modifications or need to be avoided all together in order to reduce the risk of causing aggravation. During an acute phase of inflammation one should further reduce or even eliminate the workload and focus instead on flexibility and mobility exercises working around the pain rather than through the pain.Exercise suggestions for Shoulder OA:Overhead Shoulder Stretch:

Stand with feet shoulder wide apart, arms hanging in front of body. Interlock fingers with palms facing down. Stretch arms straight overhead with fingers interlocked and palms facing ceiling.

Hold stretch for 20-30 seconds
2-3 RepetitionsCrossover Shoulder Stretch:

Stand with feet shoulder wide apart. Reach with one arm across opposite shoulder bending elbow. Gently push elbow further towards opposite shoulder.

Hold stretch for 20-30 seconds
Repeat 2-3 times each side

Towel Shoulder Stretch

Feet shoulder wide apart. Hold towel in one hand, drop it down the spine, Grab low end with other hand and gently pull top hand down behind head.

Hold stretch 20-30 seconds
Repeat 2-3 times each side

Shoulder Blade Pinch:

Stand with feet shoulder wide apart. Draw shoulders down and back until you feel your shoulder blades pinch in the back.

Hold for 5-10 seconds
Repeat 5-10 times

Rotator Cuff Strengthening
External Rotation

Stand with feet shoulder wide apart. Arms bend by your side at 90 degree angle. Grab elastic band with one hand and rotate outward. .

Repeat 10-20 times each side

Internal Rotation

Same position as before but this time arm rotates inward

Repeat 10-20 times each side.

These exercise are only a small selection and might not be suitable for everyone. Please talk to your physician and/or physical therapist before starting any exercise program.

I hope this short article is helping you understand your own condition or that of someone close to you. If you have any comments or questions please don’t hesitate to email me.


Web Md: Academy of Family Physicians: Health: Daily: Tribune: Foundation: