Many think that joint pain is just part of the aging process. The old adage that our joints get stiff and we get slower as we age is certainly true, but the pain associated this can be debilitating and have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative or wear and tear arthritis is a chronic condition estimated to affect 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60. Many of these individuals will suffer the condition in their shoulder, making everyday tasks like clearing up or cooking difficult and painful.
What is osteoarthritis? What joints does it affect?
As mentioned previously, osteoarthritis is often referred to as degenerative arthritis or “wear and tear” of your joints. But what exactly does this mean? In a normal joint two bones come together. To stop these bones from rubbing up against one another humans have developed an ingenious cushion layer known as cartilage. Cartilage acts as a sort of shock absorber that stops painful bone on bone contact from occurring. Over time though this cartilaginous layer wears itself down and often doesn’t repair. This results in bone on bone contact and significant pain in the joint affected.
What symptoms are common in osteoarthritis of the shoulder?
There are a number of common symptoms and signs associated with degenerative arthritis of the shoulder. These include:
- Pain in the joint. This is usually on activity and not at night when you are not moving the joint.
- A limited range of motion – often the shoulder cannot be moved up high without significant pain
- An odd looking shoulder is often a key sign. You may be able to see a difference to the other shoulder.
- People often also report something known as crepitus. This is a creaking that may be audible but is often felt when the joint is moving. It can often feel like something is crunching within the joint.
How is it diagnosed?
The diagnosis of degenerative arthritis is often clinical, but an X-ray can be ordered which will show loss of cartilage amongst other things.
How is it treated?
The treatment of osteoarthritis is an area that is constantly changing and there are many options. Some of the better options include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen or Aspirin. The drugs reduce the production of inflammatory molecules that increased the number of pain signals sent to the brain. However, in some people, they may not be the correct treatment (for instance if you have a history of peptic ulcers etc).
- Joint injections like steroid injections can be tried to reduce the inflammation in the joint and again reduce the number of pain signals the brain receives.
- Stem cell therapy is a new treatment offered by specialist clinics across the United States that have been shown to help regrow the cartilage and significantly help the symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis.