Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Shoulder

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes severe joint inflammation throughout the body. The underlying causes of this condition are unknown, but it results in the immune system attacking healthy cells, particularly the joint linings. While most common in the hands, wrists, and knees, rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint, including the shoulders. 

Rheumatoid arthritis can be extremely painful and debilitating, and when it develops in the shoulders, many activities can become difficult to impossible. Although rheumatoid arthritis is not a curable condition, it is manageable. In most cases, the main and attainable goal is improved function and pain relief. 

If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder and looking for relief, the following guide can help you become more informed. BEST Health System is committed to patient education, and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide additional information.

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Shoulder Causes

The joints are protected by a layer of cartilage and lubricated by joint fluid. Arthritis of any kind is caused by joint inflammation due to a breakdown in the protective cartilage that causes bone-on-bone friction. 

With rheumatoid arthritis, this is due to the body’s own immune system attacking these otherwise healthy cells.

Medical researchers still don’t fully understand the causes of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. There are certain indicators that increase the risk of people developing this condition. This includes:

  • Genetic markers 
  • The presence of certain hormones 
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is slightly more common in women than men

Rheumatoid Arthritis Shoulder Treatment

Once a doctor diagnoses rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder, the next step is to manage symptoms and improve functioning. 

Common options for rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder include:

  • Specialized prescription medications, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological response modifiers to slow the progression of the condition
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Pain management injections in the shoulder or other painful joints
  • Physical therapy to improve joint mobility
  •  Lifestyle changes, including nutritional counseling on anti-inflammatory foods

By committing to a healthy lifestyle and treatment, many people with rheumatoid arthritis are able to perform daily activities and maintain a good quality of life. As a progressive condition, surgery can become an option for rheumatoid arthritis if symptoms worsen and no longer respond to other therapies.


As primary joints in the body, the shoulders can develop rheumatoid arthritis and cause the following symptoms:

  • Severe shoulder pain
  • Stiffness and limited range of motion
  • Crepitus, a term for a grinding or popping sensation
  • Night pain that can cause difficulty sleeping
  • Visible swelling and a warm sensation in the shoulder

Rheumatoid arthritis is often experienced on both sides of the body, in comparison to age-related arthritis, or osteoarthritis, which is more likely to develop on one side or the other. 


The earlier that rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed the better. While there is no cure for this condition, and it is progressive, there are steps that can be taken to manage symptoms and potentially slow down the progression. 

Seeing a physician for persistent shoulder pain that lasts longer than a week or two is highly recommended. 

The diagnostic process generally involves:

  • A review of medical history 
  • Questions about specific symptoms and lifestyle
  •  A hands-on examination
  •  Diagnostic tests such as bloodwork to identify the presence of specific proteins
  • X-rays to check for narrowed joint space

These tests can often be essential to confirm rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder and other locations. 

Surgery for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Surgery is generally only considered in cases when other treatments have been fully exhausted and symptoms remain debilitating. Surgical options can include minimally invasive procedures to repair tendons or remove small amounts of damaged tissue, as well as joint replacements that can replace all or part of the shoulder joint with a fitted implant. 

Shoulder joint replacement can be both partial or full, depending on the extent of damage to the joint. Due to the advancement of surgical technique and technology, minimally invasive outpatient shoulder surgery is possible in many cases. 

Reach Out to BEST Health System Today

To learn more about the full range of treatment options that can help you find relief at BEST Health System, contact us today. 

We can help you learn more about our highly skilled clinical team and our state-of-the-art facilities that have helped patients across the United States get back to a healthy and active lifestyle.

If you have experienced any of these symptoms or recieved a diagnosis and need treatment, BEST can help. Take the first step towards relief today.

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