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Chronic Condition News

May 2014

Shoulder Surgery Can Relieve RA Symptoms

The human shoulder is an anatomical wonder. It's more flexible than any other joint in your body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can limit this range of movement. It may limit you so much that you may want to consider surgery to relieve pain and stiffness.

How does RA affect the shoulder?

Your shoulder is actually made up of 2 joints. One joint connects the collarbone to the top of the shoulder blade. The other is located where your arm fits into the side of the shoulder blade. RA can affect both of these joints. And when 1 shoulder is afflicted with RA, the other usually is, too.

RA is an autoimmune disease. It causes the immune system to attack the synovium. The synovium is the lining that surrounds your joints. It lubricates your joints and keeps them flexible. RA inflames this lining. Over time, it may erode the cartilage and bone in your shoulder.

People with RA often endure pain and stiffness. They may also feel warmth or notice redness around the shoulder joint. These symptoms may happen all the time or flare up periodically. They can also limit movement. Activities like reaching into a cabinet can become hard to do.

How can surgery help?

When you are first diagnosed with RA, your doctor may recommend rest and physical therapy. You may also benefit from medications that reduce inflammation. These may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids.

If these strategies don't work, you may need surgery. Replacing a diseased joint with artificial parts may relieve pain and restore movement. One recent study found such surgery significantly improved symptoms. Five years after surgery 96% of patients were doing well. Those who had severe pain before the procedure reported only slight pain afterward. They were also able to move their arms more.

Several types of surgery are available. If both joints in your shoulder are damaged, your doctor may recommend a total joint replacement. Or you may need only a part of a joint replaced, such as where your arm fits into your shoulder.

Surgery can help relieve symptoms of RA. But it isn't without risks. For instance, the wound may become infected. The new joint can also loosen, causing pain. Another important point to consider: New joints typically last only 10 to 15 years. So depending on your age, you may need another surgery.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Shoulder Surgery

Your doctor can help you decide if joint replacement surgery is right for you. It may be the best choice if you have severe pain or trouble doing daily activities, such as brushing your hair.

Talk with your doctor about your concerns. Below are some questions to help with the conversation.

  • Am I a good candidate for joint replacement surgery?

  • What type of surgery do you recommend?

  • What are the benefits and risks?

  • What can I expect after surgery? What kinds of activities will I be able to do?

  • How long will I have to stay in the hospital after the procedure?

  • Will I need physical therapy?

  • What will I need to do to prepare my home for my recovery?

Learn more about shoulder arthritis. 


Online resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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