Shoulder Arthritis Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Mild to moderate arthritis symptoms can be treated at home.
- Use ice and heat, take OTC pain relievers, and do gentle stretches to help with pain.
- Avoid activities that cause pain like lifting above waist level and reaching overhead.
When you may need a provider
- Pain is moderate to severe.
- Treating yourself is not helping the pain or your pain is interfering with activities or makes it difficult to sleep.
Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe pain and unable to move your shoulder
- Severe weakness or numbness in the arm
- Chest pain that radiates into the shoulder or arm
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See a healthcare provider if symptoms do not improve after 4–6 weeks of regular home treatment or if you develop severe stiffness and weakness in the arm.
Other conditions like rotator cuff tendinitis, frozen shoulder, or pinched nerves in the neck can have similar symptoms to shoulder arthritis so it’s helpful to be examined by a doctor. You should also see a provider if you develop severe pain in the shoulder and arm or severe weakness and numbness in the arm.
Shoulder arthritis is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and a careful physical exam.
- The healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and symptoms including what makes your pain better or worse.
- A thorough physical exam will test the strength and motion in your shoulder and arm and look for other signs of shoulder arthritis like swelling or grinding in the joint.
- Your doctor may order X-rays to look at the bones and cartilage of the shoulder joint and confirm the diagnosis of arthritis and check for other causes of your pain.
- Other imaging, like an MRI or CT scan, are rarely needed to confirm the diagnosis of shoulder arthritis.
What to expect from your doctor visit
- If OTC pain medications are not helping, your doctor may recommend prescription NSAIDs.
- Your doctor may refer you for physical therapy to help with your shoulder strength and motion.
- A cortisone shot may be offered to help reduce inflammation inside the joint and relieve pain.
- If your shoulder arthritis pain does not improve after about 3–6 months of trying these treatments, shoulder replacement surgery may be necessary.
Prescription shoulder arthritis medications
Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include
- Meloxicam (Mobic)
- Celecoxib (Celebrex)
- Naproxen (Naprosyn)
- Nabumetone (Relafen)
- Voltaren (Diclofenac)
What doctor should I see for arthritis?
- A primary care physician or other general healthcare provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
- An orthopedist is a specialist who diagnoses and treats bone, joint, tendon, and muscle conditions.
What is the best treatment for arthritis in the shoulder?
Shoulder arthritis can often be treated at home.
- Taking OTC anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help pain and inflammation.
- Applying ice and heat can also help both pain and inflammation.
- Simple stretching and strengthening exercises can help shoulder stiffness and improve your ability to lift objects and do overhead activities.
- Avoiding repetitive overhead motions like reaching, painting, and lifting can reduce your symptoms.
Shoulder arthritis symptoms may come and go depending on how inflamed or irritated the joint is. Arthritis is not curable, and symptoms often worsen over time. Consider seeing a healthcare provider if your symptoms do not improve with home treatments after 4–6 weeks.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
Tips for treating shoulder arthritis
- Use a heat pack 3 times a day to relax muscles or ice 3 times a day to reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Avoid repetitive overhead activity like reaching, painting, and lifting.
- Do gentle stretching and strengthening exercises for the shoulder. A physical therapist can teach you the right exercises to do.
- Take NSAIDs on a regular basis during a flare-up. Talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to take NSAIDs.
- Avoid regular overhead activity like reaching up, stocking shelves, painting.
- Regular stretching exercises can help reduce stiffness in the shoulder.
- Gentle, lightweight (5 lbs or less) strengthening exercises can help reduce stress on the joint when you’re doing normal daily activities.