5 Types of Arthritis That Affect the Shoulder

Written by Robin Madell | Published on October 8, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on October 8, 2013

Figuring out the source of your shoulder pain can lead to quicker treatment.

Types of Shoulder Arthritis

Your shoulders are the location of your body’s most mobile joints. These shoulder joints take a lot of “wear and tear” and have the potential to become unstable. Shoulder arthritis is one particularly painful condition that affects the shoulder joints.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has identified five distinct forms of shoulder arthritis. Click through the slideshow to learn more about how to identify these types of arthritis as well as possible treatments.

The Basics

According to the Arthritis Foundation (AF), arthritis causes more disability in Americans than any other condition. Arthritis damages not only your muscles and tendons but your joints and ligaments as well.

Shoulder arthritis generally causes symptoms of joint pain and limited mobility. There’s more than one kind of arthritis of the shoulders, however. The following slides give a rundown of the symptoms of five types of arthritis that affect the shoulders.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

One common form of shoulder arthritis is an autoimmune condition called rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. If you have RA, you may have pain in both shoulders at once. You might also experience:

  • tenderness and warmth in your joints
  • a stiff feeling in your shoulders, especially in the morning
  • “rheumatoid nodules,” which are bumps under your skin in your shoulders or arms
  • tiredness, weight loss, or a fever

RA affects your joint lining and can cause joint swelling as well. Over time, it can cause erosion of your shoulder bones, and deformity of your shoulder joints.


The classic form of arthritis termed “wear-and-tear” is osteoarthritis, or OA. This can affect the shoulders as well as other joints like your knees, hands, and hips. The AAOS reports that older people (over age 50) are more likely to develop OA.

This challenging form of arthritis—which is more common than any other type, according to the Mayo Clinic—is characterized by a combination of joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness.

Posttraumatic Arthritis

If you’re injured, you may develop a form of arthritis called posttraumatic arthritis, or PA. Since shoulder injuries are common due to the shoulder joint’s instability, injuries such as shoulder fractures and shoulder dislocations may lead to PA. Sporting injuries and other accidents can also cause this condition.

When you have PA of the shoulders, your symptoms may include having fluid in your shoulder joint, as well as pain and swelling in your joints.

Avascular Necrosis

A condition called avascular necrosis, or AVN, can result in shoulder arthritis by destroying the joint in your shoulder. It’s caused when blood is unable to reach your humerus bone, causing cells in your shoulder bone to die.

This can happen due to joint dislocations and bone fractures, as well as a result of taking steroids at high doses and drinking too much alcohol.

AVN is a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time. It can gradually evolve from an asymptomatic disease to mild pain, and eventually start causing severe pain.

Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy

Your shoulder contains a “rotator cuff,” which connects the shoulder blade with the top of your arm through a maze of tendons and muscles. Injuries to the rotator cuff are common and can lead to a form of shoulder arthritis called rotator cuff tear arthropathy.

A rip in the tendons of the rotator cuff is generally what causes this condition. Arthritis develops in your shoulder when bones in the shoulder are damaged. Symptoms include intense pain and muscle weakness that can make lifting difficult.

Surgery and Other Treatments

Shoulder arthritis is treatable. You should talk to your doctor about which treatment is right for your specific condition. Depending on your diagnosis, symptoms, and disease progression, your doctor may recommend:

  • lifestyle changes, such as range-of-motion exercises, physical therapy, or rest
  • medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin to calm inflammation and reduce pain
  • shoulder injections with corticosteroids
  • surgery, if nonsurgical treatments fail to relieve symptoms

Surgical Options

If your doctor recommends surgery for your shoulder arthritis, there are a number of possible surgical interventions, depending on your condition:

  • joint replacement surgery: Also called arthroplasty, joint replacement of the shoulder involves replacing the parts of the shoulder damaged by arthritis with an artificial prosthesis.
  • arthroscopy: Certain milder forms of arthritis can be treated with an arthroscopic procedure. This involves a surgeon relieving joint pain through small incisions and “cleaning out” your joint. A tiny camera is inserted into the joint and this camera guides the surgeon.
  • resection arthroplasty: This procedure involves surgically removing bone from your collarbone. In its place, scar tissue develops, which helps arthritis of specific joints.

If you or a loved one is experiencing shoulder pain or other symptoms that may be related to arthritis, talk to your doctor.

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