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Shoulder arthritis

Shoulder arthritis is a condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the shoulder joint

A patient with shoulder arthritis is suffering from pain and stiffness in her neck
“Arthritis” is an umbrella term for several conditions that cause inflammation in one or more joints.

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The causes of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are very different, but they both result in pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and can cause problems with mobility. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis and affects around 10.7% of the population in the UK. The percentage of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is around 1%.

Some differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis is most common in people over the age of 50
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of any age, but it is most common in people aged 40 to 60
  • Osteoarthritis pain is usually worse after physical activity, or at the end of the day
  • Rheumatoid arthritis pain is normally worse after periods of rest, or in the morning
  • Osteoarthritis can affect individual joints on one side of the body
  • Rheumatoid arthritis normally affects the same joints on both sides of the body

There is currently no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments available to help ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss private shoulder arthritis treatment with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what shoulder arthritis is, what the symptoms are, and what treatments are available.

Symptoms of shoulder arthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Reduced range of motion (how well you can move your shoulder)
  • A clicking, grinding, or popping sound when you move your shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping due to pain (pain is often worse at night)

The cause of your shoulder arthritis depends on the type of arthritis you have.


Osteoarthritis occurs due to wear and tear on a joint. This results in the breakdown of cartilage (a type of connective tissue that acts as a shock absorber). This causes the bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain, stiffness, and swelling around the joint. Osteoarthritis can also occur following an injury. This is known as post-traumatic arthritis.

You may have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis if you:

  • Have a family history of osteoarthritis
  • Are female
  • Are over 50 years of age
  • Have had a previous joint injury or surgery
  • Are overweight or obese

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells. In RA, it attacks the joint lining (the synovium) causing inflammation, stiffness, pain and swelling.

You may have an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis if you:

  • Have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Are female
  • Smoke
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are between 40 and 60 years of age

There are a variety of treatments available for shoulder arthritis. Treatment can be non-surgical, meaning you do not need to have an operation, or surgical, meaning an operation is required.

Non-surgical treatment is usually tried first. If there is no improvement, or your shoulder arthritis is severe, your consultant may recommend surgical treatment.

Non-surgical treatments

Non-surgical treatments for shoulder arthritis include:

  • Lifestyle changes and home treatments
  • Medication
  • Physiotherapy

Lifestyle changes and home treatments

Changes to your lifestyle and home treatments can help to relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. These include:

  • Rest — avoid activities that cause pain, such as heavy lifting, and vacuuming. Stop when you feel pain
  • Heat and cold packs— applying heat can relieve pain and ice packs help to reduce swelling
  • Exercise — gentle stretches help to keep your shoulder flexible and maintain your range of motion. Your physiotherapist can show you some suitable exercises
  • Pay attention to your posture — poor posture can make shoulder pain worse, so try to keep your back and neck straight and maintain a good posture


There are several medications available to treat shoulder arthritis. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of different medications to help ease your symptoms. Which medications you are prescribed depends on the type of arthritis you have, and how severe your symptoms are.

Medications used to treat arthritis include:

  • Painkillers — medications like paracetamol and co-codamol help relieve pain
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — reduce inflammation and relieve pain. They include ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Steroids — are normally given as an injection into the affected joint. They work by reducing inflammation and the effects normally last for around 3 months
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — these drugs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and work by blocking the action of the chemicals released when your immune system attacks your tissues. They can help to stop or slow the progression of the disease. DMARDs include methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine


Your consultant may recommend physiotherapy to increase your muscle strength and help to keep your joints flexible. Your physiotherapist may also use other therapies, such as heat and cold packs, massage, and transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) to help manage your pain. Our expert team of physiotherapists are skilled in assessing your individual needs and creating a tailor-made treatment plan to suit you.

Surgical treatments for shoulder arthritis

If non-surgical treatments haven’t worked, your consultant may recommend surgery to repair or replace your shoulder joint. Your consultant will decide which type of surgery is best for you based on your diagnosis, age, general health, lifestyle, and expectations for treatment.

Common surgeries for shoulder arthritis include:

Shoulder arthroscopy

During this procedure, a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions (cuts) in the skin to examine the shoulder joint and perform any necessary repairs, such as removal of bone fragments, cartilage, or damaged tissue. An arthroscopy can be performed for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Shoulder replacement surgery (shoulder arthroplasty)

During shoulder replacement surgery, all, or part of the damaged joint, is replaced with an artificial (prosthetic) joint.

Reverse shoulder replacement surgery

This is another type of shoulder replacement surgery where your consultant reverses the location of the ball and socket. Reverse shoulder replacement surgery bypasses damaged muscles and tendons and allows your other shoulder muscles to support your shoulder joint more effectively.

At your first consultation, you will be seen by a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, a doctor specialising in conditions affecting the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, or a consultant rheumatologist, a specialist in musculoskeletal disease. Your consultant will ask you some questions about your health and symptoms, including:

  • Your age
  • Your medical history
  • Your family history
  • Your general health
  • Any medications you are taking
  • Your symptoms
  • Whether you have had a previous shoulder injury or surgery
  • Whether your symptoms get better or worse after certain activities

Your consultant will examine your shoulder for signs of swelling, redness, and tenderness and check your range of movement (how well you can move your shoulder joint).

Will they need tests or scans?

In order to examine your shoulder joint in more detail, your consultant will probably order scans such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to check the bones and soft tissue of your shoulder for any abnormalities or signs of disease.

If rheumatoid arthritis is suspected, your consultant will order some blood tests to confirm or rule out the condition.

How is a diagnosis made?

A diagnosis of shoulder arthritis is made using a combination of your symptoms, physical examination, and any tests or scans.

Why is this first consultation so important?

Your first consultation is important because it’s where your surgeon will assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and recommend a suitable treatment.

At Circle Health Group, it’s important for us to spend this one-on-one time with you, to get to know you and your expectations for treatment.

Once a diagnosis is made, your consultant will recommend the best treatment options based on your diagnosis, general health, lifestyle, and preferences.

We want you to be as well-informed and comfortable as possible during your time with us, so please feel free to ask any questions, or discuss any concerns you may have with your consultant during your appointment. It’s a good idea to write down any questions you have before your consultation.

At Circle Health Group, we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group, you can expect the highest standards of care, including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about shoulder arthritis treatment, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in January 2024. Next review due January 2027.

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