Shoulder pain is complication of polio
Dear Dr. Roach: I am a 78-year-old polio survivor with severe osteoarthritis in my left shoulder, which is the side also affected by polio. I experience pain in varying degrees throughout the day, but at night the pain often wakes me up. I recently had my shoulder X-rayed. My orthopedic doctor said it was “bone on bone.” He ruled out a total shoulder replacement, citing my age and a six-month recovery period that would severely limit use of the arm.
I live alone and need both arms due to the poliomyelitis affecting my left leg. He also recommended against a steroid injection into the joint because this isn’t generally effective, in his experience, and the pain relief is short-lived. Since I do not tolerate most pain medication, he recommended Tylenol, CBD salve, alternating hot and cold applications and Voltaren gel. He did say that he would give me a steroid injection if none of that worked and if I was “desperate.” I feel hopeful that I will get at least some relief but am wondering if there are other alternatives that might offer me relief.
Answer: Poliomyelitis is an infection with polio virus, which may have many complications, including decades after the infection. The damage to the joint may be in an area affected with polio. In this case, it is thought that muscle weakness leads to abnormal motion of the joint, which over many years leads to damage to the joint.
When the surgeon says “bone-on-bone,” it means that the cartilage in the joint has been destroyed. In most cases, joint replacement is indicated. Shoulder replacement is not often done, but I did find a 2016 review from the Mayo Clinic showing generally good results for shoulder replacement in people with poliomyelitis.
Joint injections with steroids and local anesthetics can sometimes have pretty good results, although several studies have shown that they can damage cartilage with long-term use. In your case, you don’t have much cartilage to lose. Other options would be hyaluronic acid injections and platelet-rich plasma. Both of these have strong anecdotal evidence but so far only weak clinical studies proving effectiveness.