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Managing Arthritis - Treatment for Shoulder Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN January 07, 2021 0 Comments

Resistance band exercise

Shoulder arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. There are five different types of shoulder arthritis, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common. Arthritis treatment for shoulders can include medication, ice, exercise, and occasionally surgery. The ultimate goal is to minimize pain and improve your quality of life. Keep scrolling for the easiest ways to manage your shoulder arthritis symptom.

Managing Pain Symptoms

Shoulder pain from arthritis is caused by cartilage damage from wear and tear or from other causes. Treatment options are focused on managing the symptoms of shoulder arthritis through at home treatments or medical intervention. Read on to learn more.

More on What Causes of Shoulder Arthritis

Cold Therapy Application

Icing your shoulder with a shoulder ice pack will provide pain relief in two ways. The first is by numbing pain. Cold interrupts the pain signal to the brain making it a great initial treatment for shoulder arthritis. The cold also reduces swelling and inflammation. Use cold as a pain management technique in conjunction with other treatments for 20 minutes two to three times a day for the best overall relief.

Heat for Circulation

Heat is another nonsurgical treatment that can be done in the comfort of your own home. Moist heat from a heating pad or warm towel will work the best to penetrate deep into your tissues. Use heat to improve blood flow and soothe the soreness that accompanies shoulder arthritis anytime, just as long as you don't sleep with a heating pad.

Compression with Bracing

If you have shoulder arthritis using a brace can help you out in a few ways. The shoulder brace will stabilize your shoulder and shift weight away from the injured area. This offloads any extra stress and strain on the shoulder joint. The compression provided by the brace will also reduce swelling which can, in turn, lessen pain. While a brace won’t cure arthritis of the shoulder it can keep the symptoms at bay allowing you to enjoy more of your day.

How to Choose the Right Shoulder Brace


There are several medications on the market aimed at treating arthritis. Prescription medications will be used based on the type of arthritis and severity. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen that can reduce pain and swelling with minimal side effects. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another over-the-counter medication that can reduce pain but does not have the anti-inflammatory properties like an NSAID. Speak with your doctor before starting any new medication.


Massage can alleviate pain, muscle stiffness, and tension. You can perform self-massage at home or go see a professional massage therapist for treatment. Massage works by increasing the blood flow to the area which improves circulation and can reduce inflammation that is caused by arthritis. If you are performing self-massage at home try a massage cane to get those hard to reach spots like the back of the shoulder.

Learn More About Self-Massage at Home

Shoulder Exercises

Arthritis pain typically needs several modalities to be properly managed. Similar to recovering from other shoulder injuries, (ie. Rotator Cuff Tear or Impingement) incorporating exercises into your treatment plan will reduce stiffness and help retain your range of motion. Some discomfort is to be expected but do not push through severe pain. Make an appointment at your local physical therapy office for professional help performing shoulder exercises.

Effective Shoulder Exercises for Arthritis

Lifestyle Changes

Shoulder arthritis will require you to make some lifestyle changes. You’ll need to change how you do things or avoid certain activities to keep the pain away. Here are some other lifestyle changes you can make. 


There is no specific arthritis diet. However, arthritis, specifically rheumatoid arthritis, is an inflammatory disease process so eating healthy foods, avoiding saturated fats and processed foods can lower inflammation in your body. Try adapting the Mediterranean diet which encourages fish, beans, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. This way of eating minimizes inflammation and can encourage weight loss, placing less stress on your joints.

Sleeping posture

If you have shoulder arthritis you will want to avoid sleeping on your side and stomach. Aim for sleeping on your back and place a pillow beneath your knees to help maintain the natural curvature of your spine. Sleeping on your back will keep your shoulders in the best position to reduce any pain from arthritis. Sleeping on your shoulders and stomach places added stress and pressure on your already painful joints.

Tips on Proper Sleeping Posture


Dietary supplements are another treatment option that may offer some symptom relief for people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the shoulder. Glucosamine and chondroitin can help with pain and stiffness, especially when used with other shoulder arthritis treatments. Other dietary supplements like fish oil, s-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e), curcumin can also help manage the symptoms of arthritis. Talk to your doctor to determine which ones are best for you.

Cortisone Injections

Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication called a corticosteroid that is used to treat inflammation in joints. The steroid medication is mixed with a numbing medication and is injected directly into the shoulder joint. The steroid will decrease inflammation which can reduce arthritis symptoms. Cortisone injections can only be given a certain number of times before they are no longer recommended. Talk to your doctor to help determine if cortisone shots are right for you.

Shoulder Surgery

When other treatments are not effective then it is time to consider your surgical options. Your orthopedic surgeon will review your medical history, order tests like x-rays, and determine the best treatment for you.


Arthroscopy is a procedure that uses small incisions to insert a camera into the shoulder joint for arthritis in the glenohumeral joint arthritis. The joint is cleaned out which can relieve pain but arthritis can return which will require further surgery.

Arthroplasty (shoulder replacement surgery)

Shoulder arthroplasty is a joint replacement procedure that removes only parts of the shoulder joint or the entire joint and replaces it. In a hemiarthroplasty, the humerus is replaced but in a total shoulder replacement, the humerus and glenoid are replaced.  

Decreasing Pain & Flare Ups

Shoulder arthritis is a condition that causes pain, stiffness, and can greatly interfere with your daily life. Incorporating treatments that loosen up the shoulder joint space like exercise and massage will help keep you moving. Other treatments like ice, heat, and medication will lessen pain. Always talk to your doctor to ensure you are following the best treatment plan for your situation.


Shoulder Arthritis Products


Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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