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Shoulder Arthritis Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


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.
See home treatments

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.
See care providers

Emergency Care

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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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All treatments for shoulder arthritis
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Read more about shoulder arthritis care options

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.

Getting diagnosed

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.
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