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Managing the Arthritic Shoulder

Managing the Arthritic Shoulder
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While the shoulder is comprised of four joints, it’s the ball and socket glenohumeral joint that may play the most important role when it comes to the wide range of motion of the upper arm. However, this mobility comes at the cost of stability, which makes the shoulder a common source of injury.

Sometimes these injuries occur suddenly, and the pain and disability compels the patient to seek care. But many times, the injuries are microtraumas associated with overuse, excessive vibrations, or heavy lifting that build up over time and affect the motion of the joint ever so slightly. The combination of inflammation and improper joint motion can place added stress on hyaline cartilage that covers the bones and reduces friction during movement. The erosion of this cartilage leads to the condition called osteoarthrosis. In fact, about 30% of adults over age 60 develop arthritis in the ball and socket glenohumeral joint.

Early in the course of the disease, the pain may be mild, but left untreated, it can gradually become more discomforting until the patient feels as though they have no other choice than to see a doctor. Doctors of chiropractic will typically approach glenohumeral joint pain with a combination of manual therapies, soft tissue work, and specific exercise instruction. Because the condition may be more advanced, it may take a while for the patient to experience satisfactory improvements with respect to pain and disability—especially if they do not perform their home exercises, which are extremely important when it comes to rehabilitating a shoulder injury.

If the cartilage has mostly worn away and there is bone-on-bone contact, the patient may be referred to a surgeon for glenohumeral joint arthroplasty (replacement). There are several options, depending on the patient’s unique case, such as anatomic total shoulder arthroplasty, hemiarthroplasty, and reverse total shoulder arthroplasty. To increase the odds for a successful recovery, the patient may be advised to eat a healthy diet, exercise, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, and stop smoking. The patient will also receive post-surgical care instruction as to exercises to perform and to what extent to limit activity to allow the healing process to take place. One study found it can take as long as 15 weeks for the tendons to fully heal.

But it’s best not to get to the step in which surgery is the only available option, so let’s talk about preventing osteoarthritis of the shoulder. The first thing we can do is eat an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. We can also get regular exercise. If your job involves a lot of overhead activity, consider ways to reduce stress on the shoulders such as frequent breaks or different tools. If there is pain or discomfort in the shoulder, don’t wait to seek care. Schedule an appointment with your doctor of chiropractic as soon as possible to have the shoulder checked out. In many cases, the issue can be resolved in a short time. Delaying treatment may allow the injury to worsen, which can negatively affect the health of the joint and increase the chance for osteoarthritis to develop.