How does rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affect the shoulders?

Updated: Aug 22, 2019
  • Author: Howard R Smith, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Answer

RA commonly involves the shoulders and is manifested by tenderness, nocturnal pain, and limited motion. Initially, swelling occurs anteriorly, but it may be difficult to detect and is present on examination in a minority of patients at any point in time.

Rotator cuff degeneration secondary to synovitis may limit abduction and rotation. Superolateral migration of the humerus occurs with complete tears. Glenohumeral damage results in pain with motion and at rest and typically leads to severely restricted motion or “frozen shoulder syndrome.” Acromioclavicular arthritis is not as frequent or as disabling as the other manifestations of this disease.


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