What Causes Shoulder Arthritis?

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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what causes shoulder arthritis

What causes shoulder arthritis? See that shoulder x-ray up there with that big bone spur in the bottom of the joint? That scares me. This past month or two, my shoulders have been aching. As a now 50 year old physician who loves to lift weights, maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising? However, I’ve also been having very distinct shoulder instability episodes in an inferior direction. What does that mean? I can feel my shoulders falling downward all of a sudden and the top parts like the rotator cuff getting yanked. Why? Am I in the early stages of shoulder arthritis? Is there something I can do to combat this arthritis?

what causes shoulder arthritis

To help you understand what’s happening to my shoulders and what you and I can do to prevent it, I drew some pictures above. When you’re younger, your head and shoulders are straight and aligned with a perfectly balanced spine (neck curve points one way, upper back curve balances it by pointing the other, and your low back goes back the other way)-see left above. Note that the blow up of the side and front views of the normal shoulder on the left has the ball perfectly aligned in the socket. As you get older, your head and shoulders and spine begin to move forward (due to our habit of sitting in chairs). As this progresses, the upper back part of the spine can become kyphotic (hump backed). In fact, this past few months, I’ve been noticing that I now have to catch myself as it’s beginning to feel more natural for me to be in that kyphotic (slouched) position.

What does all of this have to do with my shoulders? As I have become more kyphotic (see right above), my shoulders are beginning to move forward. This has caused the ball of the shoulder joint to fall forward and down, out of the shallow socket. The new position now requires the rotator cuff (red in the front shoulder blow up on the right above) to have to resist that new downward hanging force. In addition, it over stresses the top and bottom of the shoulder capsule ligaments, making me feel a bit like my shoulders are falling off. As this progresses through the years, if I don’t fix the kyphosis, the bottom part of the ball of my shoulder joint will continue to bump into the bottom of the socket. This will cause new bone spurs down there, which will further limit motion. In addition, my rotator cuff muscles will also begin to fail from all of that extra stretching. Finally, this new shoulder position will predispose me to more impingement (where the rotator cuff and biceps tendon get pinched).

So what can I/you do? First, in the early phases of this kyphosis, you can beat it by using constant stretching against the grain of the forward head and shoulder movement. Here are some of my personal favorites:

kyphosis stretch 1

kyphosis stretch 2

kyphosis stretch 3

In the later phases (once the spine bones have changed shape), you’ll likely need professional help. In any case, if these stretches into extension cause significant neck, upper back, or lower back pain, you may have already had bone changes. Another possibility is that the facet joints in your spine may be arthritic or painful. Either way, you’ll need to see a physician like those in the RegenexxNetwork if this is happening.

Are there regenerative injection treatments? If the shoulder ligaments on the bottom of the joint are lax, injections to tighten these ligaments (like the IGHL) can be very helpful. In addition, if the main shoulder joint has arthritis, stem cell injections into the joint may help. The same holds true for degenerative tears in the rotator cuff, which based on our treatment registry data, respond very well to precise stem cell injections.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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Regenerative procedures are commonly used to treat musculoskelatal trauma, overuse injuries, and degenerative issues, including failed surgeries.
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Shoulder

Shoulder

Many Shoulder and Rotator Cuff injuries are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering shoulder arthroscopy or shoulder replacement, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.

  • Rotator Cuff Tears and Tendinitis
  • Shoulder Instability
  • SLAP Tear / Labral Tears
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Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

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Knees

Knees are the target of many common sports injuries. Sadly, they are also the target of a number of surgeries that research has frequently shown to be ineffective or minimally effective. Knee arthritis can also be a common cause for aging athletes to abandon the sports and activities they love. Regenerative procedures can be used to treat a wide range of knee injuries and conditions. They can even be used to reduce pain and delay knee replacement for more severe arthritis.

  • Knee Meniscus Tears
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  • And more
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Lower Spine

Spine

Many spine injuries and degenerative conditions are good candidates for regenerative treatments and there are a number of studies showing promising results in treating a wide range of spine problems. Spine surgery should be a last resort for anyone, due to the cascade of negative effects it can have on the areas surrounding the surgery. And epidural steroid injections are problematic due to their long-term negative impact on bone density.

  • Herniated, Bulging, Protruding Discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • SI Joint Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Pinched Nerves and General Back Pain
  • And more
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Hand & Wrist

Hand and wrist injuries and arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and conditions relating to overuse of the thumb, are good candidates for regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Hand and Wrist Arthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
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  • Thumb Arthritis (Basal Joint, CMC, Gamer’s Thumb, Texting Thumb)
  • Other conditions that cause pain
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Elbow

Elbow

Most injuries of the elbow’s tendons and ligaments, as well as arthritis, can be treated non-surgically with regenerative procedures.

  • Golfer’s elbow & Tennis elbow
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  • And more
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Hip

Hip

Hip injuries and degenerative conditions become more common with age. Do to the nature of the joint, it’s not quite as easy to injure as a knee, but it can take a beating and pain often develops over time. Whether a hip condition is acute or degenerative, regenerative procedures can help reduce pain and may help heal injured tissue, without the complications of invasive surgical hip procedures.

  • Labral Tear
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Foot & Ankle

Foot and ankle injuries are common in athletes. These injuries can often benefit from non-surgical regenerative treatments. Before considering surgery, consider an evaluation of your condition with a regenerative treatment specialist.
  • Ankle Arthritis
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  • Ligament sprains or tears
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