Can Physiotherapy Help with Shoulder Arthritis? | Upwell Health

Can Physiotherapy Help with Shoulder Arthritis? | Upwell Health

Updated 6th April 2021

Is shoulder pain ruining your life? Have a hard time sleeping and moving around because of it? In this case, see a physiotherapist! After a careful assessment, he will determine the cause of your pain and prescribe appropriate treatment. If you have arthritis, for instance, physio can slow down its progression and improve joint mobility. Most times, the pain decreases after just a few sessions.


What Is Shoulder Arthritis?

Shoulder pain is often a sign of arthritis. Also known as degenerative arthritis of the shoulder, this condition occurs when the cartilage covering the ends of your bones wears down. Over time, it causes inflammation, bone spurs, irregular motion, and pain that worsens during exercise or daily activities. The primary types of arthritis affecting the shoulder include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Posttraumatic Arthritis
  • Avascular necrosis
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy


The first two are the most common. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. About 406,000 Australians are struggling with this condition. Nearly all sufferers say that arthritis limited their ability to perform daily tasks. Its symptoms include joint pain and inflammation, loss of function, and poor mobility.


Osteoarthritis affects one in 11 Australians, which is nine percent of the population. Two in three sufferers are women. This degenerative joint disease impacts the spine, hands, knees, hips, and ankles. It can also affect the shoulders, causing debilitating pain.


There are over 100 types of arthritis, and each has distinctive characteristics. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of the disease. It attacks the joints and connective tissues, leading to swelling, decreased range of motion, stiffness, and permanent changes in the joint. Some of these changes are visible, while others can only be seen by X-rays.


When arthritis occurs in the shoulder, it can affect your quality of life and lead to disability. You might have a hard time moving your arms, playing sports, and carrying your groceries.


Shoulder joints are extremely mobile and therefore, can easily become unstable. Even the slightest injury can impact their mobility and function. Simple activities, such as picking objects from the floor or throwing a ball, can become difficult.


Causes and Risk Factors for Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis is more common in women, athletes, and overweight or obese individuals. Older people are at greater risk too. This condition may also result from a trauma or injury to the shoulder, or pass from one generation to another. Other possible causes include:

  • Repetitive tasks that put stress on the joints (such as heavy lifting or baseball)
  • Excess weight
  • Joint misalignment
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • History of trauma to the shoulder
  • Shoulder surgery
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Overuse of the shoulder


This disease affects people of all ages, including children. Even though it can not be cured, there are ways to relieve its impact and restore your mobility. Physiotherapy can make all the difference.


Signs and Symptoms

The first symptom of shoulder arthritis is pain in the affected area. The pain gets worse over time, affecting your range of motion. You may also experience stiffness, tenderness, and clicking or grinding sounds when moving the shoulder. As the disease progresses, its symptoms can become debilitating.


Some types of shoulder arthritis may lead to disability and loss of joint function. You may also feel weaker and have difficulty sleeping on the affected shoulder. About 20 to 70 percent of those who were working at the onset of rheumatoid arthritis were disabled within 10 years.


Additionally, this condition is often accompanied by depression, low self-esteem, and social withdrawal. It is estimated that up to 16.8 percent of Australians diagnosed with arthritis suffer from depression.



Shoulder arthritis is typically diagnosed with X-rays and physical examination. The doctor will look for specific symptoms, such as:


  • Crepitus with movement of the shoulder
  • Signs of previous injury
  • Extent of active and passive range of motion
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Bone spurs
  • Changes in the bone
  • Narrowing of the joint space


In some cases, an MRI or CT scan may be required.


How Is Shoulder Arthritis Treated?

Health professionals usually recommend the least invasive approach to restore joint function and ease pain. Surgery is only prescribed in severe cases. Non-operative treatment involves Hyaluronon injections, steroid injections, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or physiotherapy.


If you’re diagnosed in late stages of the disease, you might need surgery. Shoulder replacement surgery and arthroscopic treatment are the most common procedures. However, they are only used when everything else has failed.


Most times, physiotherapy combined with lifestyle changes can prevent complications and restore range of motion. Patients are advised to stay active and maintain a healthy weight. Repetitive overhead activities, such as the military press, should be kept to a minimum.


Regular exercise is crucial. An active lifestyle will help preserve muscle and improve joint flexibility. It also aids in weight management and prevents obesity, which is a major risk factor for arthritis. A skilled physiotherapist can design exercise plans that meet your needs. He will also teach you good lifting form and show what movements to avoid.


How Effective Is Physiotherapy?


Depending on your symptoms, the physiotherapist may recommend massage, shoulder stretches, low-impact workouts, or strengthening exercises. These strategies help prevent muscle atrophy, frozen shoulder, and further joint degeneration.


Stretching and strengthening exercises are particularly beneficial. Their role is to improve joint mobility and strengthen the rotator cuff and scapular muscles. In the long run, they help reduce pain and keep the shoulder joints limber.


Your physio treatment plan can also include proprioception and balance exercises, dry needling, acupuncture, and joint mobilisation techniques. The physiotherapist may use electrotherapy to alleviate pain and accelerate healing. Kinesiology tape and heat packs can help too.


Don’t wait until it’s too late! Early treatment can prevent complications and improve joint function. Book a physiotherapy appointment at Upwell Health Collective and get your shoulders checked. The more you wait, the higher your risk of disability and further trauma.

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