Diagnosis of shoulder arthritis

When you first see your doctor at Circle, they will talk with you about your shoulder pain and stiffness and have a thorough examination of your shoulder and upper arm. It is important to let them know about the impact your symptoms are having on your life, and the ways they are limiting your everyday activities and tasks. The doctor may arrange for you to have one of a number of diagnostic tests to help confirm a diagnosis of arthritis and/or treatment options. All these tests can easily be carried out at your Circle hospital and may include:

  • Blood test: Certain types of blood tests can help in showing possible indications of some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

  • X-ray: Where shoulder arthritis is suspected, your doctor will usually arrange for you to have an X-ray of your shoulder as this can often show signs of arthritis in the joint. The area X-rayed is usually from your shoulder to your sternum. Your shoulder X-ray will be done by one of Circle’s diagnostic radiographers. They will get you to stand in front of a hardboard, which is actually an X-ray sensitive plate. They will position you with the shoulder blade touching the board and your arm held down and slightly away from the body, with the palm facing forwards. This positioning helps open up the shoulder joint so that it can be most clearly seen on the X-ray. Other positions may be used if further views are needed of the joint via X-ray.

  • CT scan: Best thought of as a way of generating a three-dimensional X-ray, a CT scanner resembles a large doughnut. You will be asked to lie on a table which is then moved so that your shoulder is inside the scanner. Standing for ‘computerised tomography’, a CT scanner uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to generate a detailed view of your shoulder joint from multiple angles. A CT scan is good at showing subtle signs of arthritis that may be missed on a standard X-ray. It is also extremely helpful when planning shoulder surgery.

  • MRI scan: An MRI scanner uses strong magnets rather than ionising radiation. Standing for ‘magnetic resonance imaging’, an MRI scan provides your doctor with high-quality images of your shoulder joint. It is particularly good for showing tendon damage, which can be a common problem with shoulder arthritis. For the scan, you lie on a table which then moves into the middle of the scanner. You will need to keep as still as possible for the duration of the scan, which usually takes between 20-45 minutes.

Shoulder arthritis treatment options

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Circle Health, 32 Welbeck St, Marylebone, London W1G 8EU