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Diagnosis Orthopedics

Arthritis of the Shoulder

Doctors diagnose shoulder arthritis by asking about symptoms; performing a thorough physical exam, which includes checking range of motion in the joint and muscle strength in the area; and examining images, such as X-rays, of the shoulder.

During the physical exam, your doctor will check for:

  • Weakness (atrophy) in the muscles
  • Tenderness when the area is touched
  • Pain when pressure is placed on the joint
  • Extent of passive (assisted) and active (self-directed) range of motion
  • Any signs of injury to the muscles, tendons, ligaments surrounding the joint
  • Signs of previous injury
  • Involvement of other joints (an indication of rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Crepitus (a grating sensation inside the joint) with movement

An X-ray image of an arthritic shoulder will show a narrowing of the joint space, changes in the bone and the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes). At times, an MRI is used to better evaluate the rotator cuff tendons, and a CT scan may be used to provide a 3D evaluation of the shoulder bones.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.