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Shoulder (Glenohumeral) Arthritis Symptoms & Treatment

Shoulder arthritis, also called glenohumeral joint arthritis, is a condition characterized by damage to the cartilage in the shoulder joint.

Shoulder (Glenohumeral) Arthritis Hero Image 2

Shoulder arthritis, also called glenohumeral joint arthritis, is a condition characterized by damage to the cartilage in the shoulder joint. The glenohumeral joint is a major joint where the head of the humerus bone (the upper arm bone) rests in the glenoid cavity of the scapula (the shoulder blade). The ends of the bones at the joints are covered with a smooth tissue called cartilage that helps the bones of the joint glide easily and without friction. When cartilage is damaged, the bones can start to rub against each other, causing inflammation and further damage to the joint.

There are three types of arthritis that affect the shoulder:

  • Osteoarthritis: Wear and tear of the joint’s cartilage due to aging.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself and leads to degeneration of the joints.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: A form of osteoarthritis that develops after someone experiences an injury to the joint that damages the cartilage and changes the normal mechanics of the joint, leading to further wear and tear of the cartilage.

With all types of arthritis, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones of the joint is lost. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to affect the shoulder



What causes Shoulder (Glenohumeral) Arthritis?

The cause of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis diagnosed:


  • Osteoarthritis is the result of normal wear and tear that occurs as we age.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis develops after the patient has sustained an injury to the shoulder.

Shoulder arthritis is common in individuals who play/have played these sports:

  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Weightlifting
  • Football


Pain in the shoulder is the most notable symptom of shoulder arthritis. Other symptoms of shoulder arthritis include:

  • Stiffness
  • Clicking
  • Weakness (develops in advanced stages)

When to see a doctor

If you have symptoms of shoulder arthritis that do not go away, or that are getting worse, make an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist. During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and will do a physical examination to assess range of motion and strength of the arm and shoulder.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe the following imaging tests:

  • X-rays
  • MRI to evaluate the other structures of the shoulder especially the rotator cuff


Non-operative treatment

Shoulder arthritis is typically treated initially with conservative, non-operative treatments, including:

  • Rest from aggravating activities
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) to relieve pain
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder
  • Cortisone shots to reduce inflammation and relieve pain

Try these exercises to help address your condition:

Below is a PDF of the Exercise Program

Shoulder Arthritis

Surgical Treatment

If non-operative treatments do not relieve your symptoms of shoulder arthritis, your doctor may recommend surgery. The type of surgery performed will depend on the severity of your diagnosis and your age.

  • Debridement: During a debridement procedure, your doctor cleans out damaged cartilage from the shoulder joint. This procedure is recommended if you still have cartilage tissue and the bones are not rubbing against each other.
  • HemiCap® Resurfacing: A metal cap is placed over the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) to replace damaged cartilage. This is used when arthritis involves only the humerus (upper arm bone) and not the glenoid(socket)
  • Total Shoulder Replacement: The head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and the glenoid (socket) are replaced with artificial parts.



Although there is no cure for shoulder arthritis, patients can find relief from symptoms using non-operative treatments. If non-surgical treatments are effective, you may find relief within a couple of weeks.

If you elect to have shoulder replacement surgery, you will need to keep  your arm in a sling for several weeks to allow the shoulder to heal. When instructed by your doctor, you will start physical therapy to regain range of motion and strength of the shoulder and arm.

If you require surgery, expect recovery to take at least three months. Full recovery from a HemiCap® procedure can take up to three months, but some patients may be able to start activities within a few weeks of surgery. If you require a total shoulder replacement, it can take three to six months for the shoulder to completely heal, but you may need up to a year to fully recover range of motion and strength.