How to Prevent Arthritis in Your Shoulder

If you’re worried about shoulder arthritis, you may be wondering if there are ways you can prevent it. Over time, general wear and tear that we put on our shoulder joints can lead to arthritis. We can’t avoid joint stress completely, but we can take steps to maintain flexibility, strengthen our joints, and improve range of motion, all of which can go a long way toward prevention. Many of our suggestions focus on preventing and managing shoulder pain, as well as improving mobility. These are great options to try whether you’re experiencing arthritis symptoms or not.

This article is based off an interview with our board certified rheumatologist, Siddharth Tambar, MD. Check out the full interview here.

Steps

Method 1 Method 1 of 11:Warm up for 5-10 minutes before exercising.

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Exercising cold joints increases your risk of injury. Overuse and injury are the main causes of shoulder arthritis, so anything you can do to avoid both is your first line of defense. Spending a few minutes doing gentle movements before every exercise session will warm up those muscles and joints and help prevent injuries. You can do things like:

  • Walking: This is a great warmup if you want to keep it simple.
  • Arm circles: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold both arms straight out at your sides with palms down. Move your arms in small, slow circles 20 times in each direction. As you get more flexible, progressively increase the size of your arm circles.
  • High-stepping: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your left foot and lift your right knee up toward your chest. For a deeper stretch, gently pull the knee up with your hands. Pause, then bring your right foot down. Repeat the same thing on the other side. Continue alternating legs for several minutes to get your blood flowing.

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Method 2 Method 2 of 11:Do shoulder stretches to maintain flexibility.

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Try doing these simple stretches 1-2 times a day. Maintaining your shoulder flexibility with targeted stretches helps to protect you from injury/strain, loosens up any stiffness you’re experiencing, and improves your range of motion. Be sure to watch your form and if you experience any shoulder pain, stop the stretch immediately so you don’t hurt yourself. Try these stretches:

  • Overhead shoulder stretch: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart and let your arms hang down at your sides. Bring both hands together in front of you and interlock your fingers with palms facing down. Keeping your fingers interlocked, raise both arms straight up over your head. Rotate your hands so your palms are facing the ceiling. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
  • Crossover shoulder stretch: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart. Raise your right arm at shoulder height so it’s parallel to the floor. Gently move your right arm to the left so it crosses your body and your upper arm comes in towards your chest. Put your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull the arm further across your body. Keep your elbow slightly and hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times for each arm.

Method 3 Method 3 of 11:Try shoulder exercises to improve joint stability.

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Exercises strengthen the shoulders and improve range of motion. Shoulder strengthening exercises are great for preventing arthritis, but if you’re already experiencing arthritis symptoms, exercises can minimize those symptoms and may even help slow the disease down. Remember to move carefully and stop the exercise if you feel pain in your shoulder. Get started with easy simple exercises:

  • Lateral raises: Grip a 3-pound (1.3 kg) dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang down at your sides. Rotate both arms so your thumbs are facing outward (away from your body). Exhale and raise both arms out to your sides in a slow, controlled way until they’re parallel to the ground. Your thumbs should be facing up and elbows slightly bent. Then, inhale as you slowly bring your arms back down. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
  • Shoulder press: Hold a 3-pound (1.3 kg) dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang loose at your sides. Raise your upper arms until they’re parallel to the ground with elbows bent at 90-degrees. Hold the weights in the air (like you’re flexing your biceps); your palms and fingers should be facing in toward your body. Exhale and slowly raise both arms up, straightening both elbows so you can bring the weights together overhead. Pause briefly and inhale as you return to the starting position. Try 3 sets of 12 reps.

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Method 4 Method 4 of 11:Aim for 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise a day.

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Regular aerobic exercise can help prevent joint pain and stiffness. Whether you’re aiming to prevent arthritis or trying to ease symptoms that you’re already experiencing, low-impact aerobic exercise can help. Brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and using gym equipment like treadmills and ellipticals are all great options. Getting in 30 minutes per day is a solid goal, but you can work up to that slowly if you need to. The most important thing is to make exercise a part of your regular routine.

  • If you’re already experiencing moderate shoulder pain and stiffness, you may want to avoid swimming and the elliptical since those exercises may aggravate your shoulder.
  • If you already have shoulder arthritis, exercising in the morning can help improve pain and range of motion for the rest of the day.

Method 5 Method 5 of 11:Stop doing something if it hurts your shoulder.

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Ignoring pain can cause injury and eventually lead to arthritis. If you feel even a twinge of pain in your shoulder while performing a task or exercise, don’t ignore that pain or try to push through it. That’s your body’s way of telling you you’re putting too much stress on your joints. If you’ve injured your shoulder in the past, you definitely want to minimize any additional stress on that particular joint since it’s already weakened by the injury. Instead, you can do things like:

  • Take a break from that task/exercise for the day
  • Do a few gentle shoulder stretches

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Method 6 Method 6 of 11:Rest and ice your shoulder if it feels sore.

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Joint pain that lasts 1-2 hours after exercise is a sign that you overdid it. That’s okay, it happens! But it’s important to rest the joint so it gets back to normal rather than worsens. Applying an ice pack to the sore shoulder for 15 minutes can help reduce swelling and ease any pain you feel.

  • The next time you do shoulder exercises, do a little less than you did last time (less weight, less reps, etc.) so you don’t aggravate your shoulder again.

Method 7 Method 7 of 11:Maintain a healthy weight.

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Weight gain can put extra stress on your joints. Being overweight doesn’t affect your shoulder joints too much, but carrying extra weight does put stress on your other joints, especially your lower back, ankles, knees, and hips. To keep those joints strong, try to eat a healthy diet and exercises regularly.

  • If you need to lose weight, low-impact aerobic exercises (like walking) and changing your diet can help.

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Method 8 Method 8 of 11:Consume 1,200 mg of calcium every day.

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Calcium helps support strong bones and joints. For healthy adults, experts recommend 1,200 mg of calcium daily. The best way to get calcium is by eating calcium-rich foods, but you can take a supplement if you aren’t getting enough calcium in your regular diet. Great food sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, leafy greens, broccoli, canned sardines, salmon, calcium-fortified cereals, soy products (like tofu), orange juice, and nut milks.

  • Avoid consuming more than 2,500 mg of calcium per day since getting too much calcium can actually do more harm than good.
  • Check with your doctor before starting any new nutrition supplements, especially if you have any current health conditions.

Method 9 Method 9 of 11:Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.

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High blood sugar levels can raise your risk of getting osteoarthritis. If you have diabetes, be sure to get your blood sugar levels checked regularly. If your blood sugar levels are chronically high, erratic, or difficult to control, make an appointment with your doctor. They can go over treatment options with you and help you find healthy ways to manage your blood sugar.

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Method 10 Method 10 of 11:See your doctor if you have any arthritis symptoms.

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Pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion are the most common signs. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history first. After that, they’ll do a physical examination of the affected shoulder to check for signs of weakness, tenderness, injury, and pain when pressure is applied to the joint. After that, your doctor will likely take a few x-rays to look for narrowing of the joint space, bone density changes, and bone spurs. Common treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy to improve range of motion and stiffness
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling
  • Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Various surgical options depending on the severity and exact location of the arthritis

Method 11 Method 11 of 11:Learn about common types of shoulder arthritis.

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This can help you better understand and manage symptoms. There are many different types of arthritis out there. Most of them share the same symptoms: pain in the shoulder joint, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. However, the cause behind each type of arthritis varies. Here are the most common types of arthritis and what causes them:

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It’s caused by gradual wear and tear of the joint cartilage associated with aging. There’s no cure, but medication, exercises, and stretching can help you manage your symptoms.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint inflammation and pain. It affects people of all ages. Unfortunately, doctors don’t know what causes RA, so there’s no cure. Treatment involves managing pain and inflammation through medication, lifestyle changes, and gentle exercises.
  • Post-traumatic shoulder arthritis tends to develop after a significant injury like a shoulder fracture or dislocation. The only prevention is to avoid injury (which isn’t always possible). There’s no cure, but symptoms can be managed effectively with medication, lifestyle changes, and so on.
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy develops after a serious and often prolonged rotator cuff tear. The only prevention is to avoid injury and allow unavoidable injuries to heal properly. Treatment is the same as the other types.

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