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Physical Therapy for Shoulder Arthritis – Information, Exercises, and More

The pain and inflammation in your shoulder are beginning to become unbearable. You wake up stiff and sore, getting ready for the day exacerbates the pain, and even normal household tasks are starting to become difficult.

Instead of letting your shoulder arthritis control your life, you want to take control of the arthritis. 

Although there is no cure for shoulder arthritis, you’re wondering if physical therapy for shoulder arthritis pain could help.

Learn everything about shoulder arthritis, including:

  • What shoulder arthritis is
  • How it’s caused 
  • It’s symptoms
  • If physical therapy can help
  • And more


What Is Shoulder Arthritis?

Shoulder arthritis is typically caused when there is damage or wear to the cartilage on the ball or socket of the shoulder joint. 

The shoulder has two joints: 

  1. Regular shoulder arthritis typically refers to the glenohumeral joint
  2. Shoulder arthritis affecting the acromioclavicular joint is referred to as AC joint arthritis.

In both cases, shoulder arthritis presents as …

  • Inflammation
  • Pain; and
  • Stiffness 

… that makes daily tasks difficult to accomplish.

What Causes Shoulder Arthritis?

There are five common causes of shoulder arthritis that make natural arm movements painful and difficult to perform.

#1: Osteoarthritis

Most common in people over the age of 50, osteoarthritis is known as the “wear-and-tear” of the smooth outer cartilage that covers the bone. It is also the most common type of arthritis.

This type of shoulder arthritis commonly develops in the acromioclavicular joint and is sometimes referred to as “bone on bone” arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis develops from overuse, but there are other risk factors for osteoarthritis, including:

  • Obesity
  • Previous injury to the joint; or
  • Family history

#2: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease where the defenses that protect the body from infection instead damage normal tissue and soften bones. In addition to the shoulder, RA can attack many different joints in your body. It is also common in both acromioclavicular and glenohumeral shoulder joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes the lining that covers your joints to swell, which causes the stiffness and pain you experience as a symptom.

People of all ages can develop RA, and some are more susceptible to the disease than others.

#3: Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Different from other types of shoulder arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis develops quickly due to the shoulder injury (or affected joint). Also, unlike other forms of shoulder arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis is usually temporary and can be healed in time.

#4: Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy

Almost 2 million people in the United States suffer from rotator cuff tears each year. And as a result, shoulder pain and shoulder arthritis occur. 

Because a rotator cuff tear weakens the shoulder, the rotator cuff can no longer hold the head of the shoulder in its socket. As the shoulder head moves, it begins to rub against the outer edge of the shoulder blade, causing arthritis to develop.

#5: Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis (AVN) is a blood supply condition that can ultimately destroy the shoulder joint. 

The blood supply in the head of the humerus is disrupted most commonly from …

  • High-dosage steroid use
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Sickle cell disease; and
  • Traumatic shoulder injuries

… leading to shoulder arthritis over time. 

Shoulder Arthritis Symptoms

Although there are a handful of different types of shoulder arthritis, they all present with similar symptoms. Some come on quickly, some appear over time, and some are manageable with various forms of treatment.


Pain is the most common symptom of shoulder arthritis. It can present at different levels, become aggravated by certain movements, or progressively worsen over time. 

Exactly where you feel pain might vary depending on the type of shoulder arthritis you’re experiencing and which joint it affects:

  • Those with glenohumeral shoulder arthritis generally experience pain in the side or back of the shoulder. 
  • People experiencing AC shoulder arthritis typically feel pain at the top of the shoulder that sometimes radiates into the neck.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers often experience pain throughout the entire shoulder since RA can affect both shoulder joints.

Limited Range of Motion

As your shoulder arthritis worsens or you’re experiencing a particularly painful day, it’s common to notice a limited range of motion. You might find it difficult to reach your arm(s) above your head or lift objects.


If accompanied by other symptoms, crepitus —grinding, clicking, or snapping

— can be a sign of shoulder arthritis. 

Remember, it is common for your joints to make cracking, clicking, or popping sounds. 

But if you’re experiencing crepitus and other symptoms like …

  • Pain
  • Swelling; or
  • Limited range of motion

… you could be suffering from shoulder arthritis.

Shoulder Arthritis Treatment

Before you can begin receiving treatment for shoulder arthritis, you must first confirm the diagnosis. This is normally done through a physical examination and an x-ray to view the dense structures inside your shoulder. 

If you are suffering from shoulder arthritis, your x-ray will likely show:

  • A narrowing of the joint 
  • Changes in the bone; or
  • The formation of bone spurs

Once your diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor can discuss surgical and nonsurgical treatment options depending on the type of shoulder arthritis you’re experiencing.

Nonsurgical Options

Doctors often try to work through as many nonsurgical options as possible before recommending surgery for shoulder arthritis. 

Nonsurgical options include:

  • Rest
  • Change in activities or arm movements
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Daily icing 
  • Dietary supplements or changes to your diet
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Heat
  • Shoulder arthritis physical therapy

Surgical Options

Surgery is often recommended if your shoulder arthritis pain persists or worsens after exploring nonsurgical options. 

Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopy is most commonly recommended for mild glenohumeral arthritis. A small camera is inserted into the shoulder joint for the doctor to clean out the joint and offer pain relief.
  • Resection arthroplasty is normally done as a last-chance procedure and is the removal of the humeral head and/or glenoid components of the shoulder. Scar tissue fills the space for optimal shoulder functionality. 
  • Arthroplasty is a shoulder joint replacement that can be done in various ways:
    • Hemiarthroplasty is a replacement of the head of the humerus with an artificial component.
    • A total shoulder arthroplasty replaces both the head of the humerus (with a metal ball) and the glenoid (with a plastic cup).
    • A reverse total shoulder arthroplasty replaces the head of the humerus with a plastic cup and the glenoid with a metal ball.

Shoulder Arthritis Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Your shoulder pain is persistent and affecting your daily life. You’re left wondering, does physical therapy help with arthritis in the shoulder? 

Yes! Physical therapy is often recommended as a nonsurgical treatment option to help manage pain and symptoms of shoulder arthritis. 

Through various exercises, physical therapy for shoulder arthritis can be beneficial. 

They can help to improve:

  • Performance of daily tasks
  • Shoulder mobility and flexibility
  • Range of motion; and
  • Muscle strength

If you’re suffering from shoulder arthritis, our team of skilled and trained professionals at In Motion O.C. can help create a physical therapy treatment plan specifically for you.

Best Shoulder Arthritis Exercises

Physical therapy for arthritis in the shoulder and exercise can help to:

  • Reduce stiffness
  • Reduce muscle and joint strain; and 
  • Increase muscle function

Consider these tried-and-true shoulder arthritis exercises to help manage your symptoms.

Exercises To Improve Range of Motion

Both shoulder elevation stretches and shoulder blade rotations help stretch the shoulder muscles. This can improve range of motion to make daily activities easier to perform. 

To do a shoulder elevation stretch:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight while holding a broomstick shoulder-width apart.
  2. Start with the broomstick gently against your thighs. Slowly raise your arms past your chest and over your head until it’s nearly touching the floor. Keep your arms as straight as possible throughout the movement.
  3. Bring the broomstick from overhead back to your thighs, following the same path.
  4. Repeat for 10 repetitions 3 times.

To do a shoulder blade rotation:

  1. Stand upright with your arms down at your side.
  2. Shrug your shoulders upwards towards your ears and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Pull your shoulder blades downwards and hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Exercises To Improve Flexibility and Mobility

To improve shoulder joint flexibility, try a shoulder outward rotation stretch. 

To perform this stretch:

  1. Take a broomstick and lie on your back, holding the broomstick shoulder-width apart above your chest with bent elbows.
  2. Slowly move the broomstick left, center, and right, holding each position in the stretch.
  3. Repeat 10 times for 3 sets.

Door leans are also beneficial for shoulder mobility and stretching of the shoulder muscles. 

To perform door leans:

  1. Stand facing a door frame and raise both hands above your head.
  2. Place your hands on either side of the door frame and gently lean forward until you feel a comfortable tension in your shoulders.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 3 times.

Exercises To Relieve Pain

Pendulum exercises help to relieve pain by relaxing the shoulder muscles through a series of movements. 

To perform a pendulum exercise, try this:

  1. Using a chair or counter for support, bend forward, resting your less painful arm. Your pained arm should be hanging down.
  2. Using your legs and hips to create momentum, gently swing your hanging arm back and forth, side to side, and in circular motions.
  3. Repeat each direction 30 times.

Exercise To Strengthen Muscles

Door presses can help to stretch and strengthen the shoulder joints and muscles. 

To perform door presses:

  1. Stand in a doorway and bend one elbow at a right angle. Your thumb should be pointing toward the ceiling.
  2. Press the back of your wrist into the doorframe, creating a stretch up throughout your shoulder.
  3. Using the other side of the door frame, press your palm and create the same stretch up into your shoulder.
  4. Repeat 10 times for 3 sets.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Shoulder Arthritis

Are you suffering from pain and inflammation caused by shoulder arthritis? Physical therapy for shoulder arthritis pain has proven to be beneficial, and we can help. 

At In Motion O.C., we have helped dozens, if not hundreds, of people suffering from similar shoulder ailments — and ailments of many other types — manage their symptoms. 

We understand that there is no cookie-cutter treatment plan for shoulder arthritis, so we take the time to assess each patient individually before creating a customized plan of care.

Our rating as the number one physical therapist in the United States on Yelp and Google attests to our care and commitment to our patients. Stop suffering from shoulder arthritis pain and contact us today to learn how to properly manage your pain and symptoms.

In Motion O.C.