Shoulder (AC) Arthritis

If your shoulder hurts or feels stiff when you reach up to take an item from a shelf, you may have shoulder, or AC arthritis. This is arthritis that occurs in your acromioclavicular, or AC, joint. Your AC joint is between your collar bone, or clavicle, and a part of your shoulder blade called the acromion. Your other shoulder joint is the glenohumeral joint, which is located between your arm and shoulder blade. Arthritis can occur in either joint, but it’s more common in the AC joint.

AC arthritis can cause pain in your shoulder. It’s a common cause of shoulder pain in people over the age of fifty.

If you’re having pain in your shoulder, it’s important to talk with your health care provider. Treatments to help your pain are available.


The most common kind of arthritis of the AC joint is osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis is caused by wear and tear.

Each of your joints is surrounded by a capsule that’s filled with fluid. Inside the joints, your bones are covered by a flexible tissue called cartilage. Over time, the cartilage wears down. This allows your bones to scrape together, which can be painful.Shoulder separation or overuse injuries can also increase your risk of shoulder arthritis.

The other type of arthritis that can occur in your AC joint is rheumatoid arthritis. This happens when your body’s immune system makes substances that damage your joint tissues. This can be painful.


Some of the symptoms you may get with AC arthritis include:

  • Pain, especially at the top of your shoulder
  • Trouble moving your shoulder
  • Swelling, and
  • Clicking or grinding noises

Your healthcare provider will do an exam and perhaps an X-ray or an MRI.


Moist heat or ice may help your shoulder feel better. You may need to rest your shoulder or avoid certain activities. Your provider may show you certain exercises to help your shoulder move easier. You may need physical therapy.

Your provider may recommend over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your provider may want you to try different medications. These are known as antirheumatic drugs and biologic agents. These medications can help control your inflammation. Both require a prescription.

Ointments or creams that you put on your skin may also help control your pain.

Injections of steroids or painkillers into the joint may control your pain. If your pain gets better after an injection, this can help confirm that you have AC arthritis.

If your symptoms don’t improve with nonsurgical treatment, you may need surgery.

Things to Remember

  • AC arthritis is a common cause of shoulder pain in adults.
  • Over-the-counter medications can often reduce your pain.
  • You may need to rest your shoulder for a short period of time or avoid certain activities.

What We Have Learned

  1. AC arthritis is a common cause of knee pain. True or False?
    The answer is False. The acromioclavicular, or AC joint, is in your shoulder.

  2. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can often reduce the pain from AC arthritis. True or False?
    The answer is True. Over-the-counter medications may help ease the pain of osteoarthritis. You may need different medications if you have rheumatoid arthritis.