What causes damage to the shoulder joint?

Friction and pain-free movement of the shoulder joint requires that the joint cartilage on the head of the humerus and glenoid cavity is intact. A variety of factors can cause wear or damage to the protective cartilage layer, known as shoulder arthrosis (omarthrosis):

  • Damage to the rotator cuff
  • Frequent dislocations (luxations)
  • Incorrect loading or overloading of the shoulder joint during work or sporting activities
  • Inflammation of the joint (chronic arthritis, rheumatism)
  • Fractures of the humeral head with circulatory problems
  • wear of the joint cartilage for unexplained reasons (idiopathic arthrosis)

Progression of omarthrosis

Damage shoulder joint: Shoulder Arthrosis

In healthy shoulder joints the joint cartilage forms a smooth surface and thus protects the joint surfaces against friction. In the case of omarthrosis, however, the joint cartilage initially loses its elasticity although the sufferer is unaware of this. The surface of the cartilage becomes rough in the areas subject to the greatest loads and, over the course of time, is completely worn away. The bony surfaces of the joint now rub against each other which can ultimately result in deformation of the humeral head and glenoid cavity.

Pain and restricted movement

If the joint surfaces rub against each other without the protective layer of cartilage, this will result in pain. Initially the sufferer only notices the pain when the joint is loaded, yet over the course of time, pain is increasingly experienced when the joint is not loaded, particularly at night. Many sufferers complain about sensitivity to cold and scraping and rubbing inside the shoulder.

In addition, the shoulder joint increasingly loses its mobility, until it stiffens completely. As a result of this, sufferers adopt a relieving posture, which in turn causes muscle tension and pain in other regions of the body such as the neck or back.

Since the shoulder joint plays a key role, particularly in day-to-day activities such as lifting and carrying, sufferers are increasingly restricted in their everyday lives and experience diminished quality of life. Even putting on and taking off a jacket, pouring a drink into a glass or brushing the teeth can become a problem.

Pain relief options

Depending on the nature of the pain experienced, the attending doctor will firstly try conservative methods to ease the pain. These include pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication, physiotherapy, baths and packs. Injections administered to the shoulder joint can also bring relief. These help to reduce the pain and improve joint mobility. Shoulder arthroscopy with irrigation of the articular cavity can also bring temporary relief.

However, there is currently no sure way of recreating an intact cartilage layer in the joint and healing arthrosis. Thus, if all the measures fail to ease the pain, sufferers can be helped with a replacement of the diseased joint using a shoulder endoprosthesis.

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