Shoulder osteoarthritis : diagnosis, causes and treatment


Updated Jan 15, 2019

Shoulder osteoarthritis: symptoms and diagnosis

Shoulder OsteoarthritisShoulder osteoarthritis, also called omarthritis, is much less common than osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, and is generally tolerated better as it does not affect a “weight-bearing” joint. The disease is more common in women and occurs more often in subjects aged over 60.
The initial symptom of omarthritis is pain, followed by a progressive decrease in mobility, and even blocking of the joint. In addition, crepitus may occur during movement of the shoulder. An x-ray will clearly confirm the diagnosis.

Omarthritis or the degenerative wear of the cartilage on the head of the humerus

The head of the humerus (the top of the bone) articulates with the glenoid cavity, a groove in the scapula. The surfaces of these bones are covered with cartilage and shoulder osteoarthritis is the wear of this cartilage. Debris can build up and bone remodelling can occur causing aggravated pain and loss in mobility as well as blocking of the joint.

Primary or secondary omarthritis?

The disease can occur following a trauma, in particular after rupture of the rotator cuffs. In this case, we talk of secondary omarthritis: the head of the humerus is no longer correctly aligned in the glenoid.
In the case of primary shoulder osteoarthritis linked to the wear and tear of the joint, the shoulder tendons remain intact and the head of the humerus remains correctly positioned in the glenoid. Primary omarthritis requires a rigorous medical follow-up to ensure the good condition of the tendons to avoid the possible rupture of the rotator cuffs.

Medical treatment of shoulder osteoarthritis

The treatment itself is similar for primary and secondary omarthritis. Initially, analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can be prescribed to relieve the pain in association with rehabilitation. When the treatments no longer provide any relief for the patient, Altim injections, a synthetic corticosteroidal anti-inflammatory, hyaluronic acid viscosupplementation or platelet rich plasma therapy (PRP) can be envisaged. Stem cell injections can also be discussed.

Total shoulder replacement: not too soon, not too late

Surgery can sometimes prove necessary to treat shoulder osteoarthritis: conservative surgery (performed arthroscopically) to help clean any debris, or total shoulder replacement. The latter, very reliable these days, consists in removing the worn bone and cartilage and replacing them with synthetic parts. The pain disappears and the mobility of the shoulder joint is restored.

Dr Philippe PAILLARD, MD

About the Author:

Specialist in orthopedic surgery and sports surgery, Dr. Philippe Paillard operates on patients with hip, knee, shoulder, elbow or ankle disorders or injuries.

Facebook page of Dr. Philippe Paillard Linkedin page of Dr. Philippe Paillard