Shoulder osteoarthritis occurs due to the breakdown of cartilage and other tissues in the shoulder. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, limited motion, and grinding sounds. Several treatments can help alleviate symptoms.

Primary osteoarthritis of the shoulder occurs gradually over time with wear and tear. Secondary osteoarthritis of the shoulder has a more specific cause, such as an injury or infection.

Read on to learn about the symptoms and causes of shoulder osteoarthritis. This article also discusses treatment options, diagnosis, and more.

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Symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis can include:

  • pain and stiffness around the joint of the shoulder and the upper arm
  • pain that may worsen when moving the joint
  • pain that may worsen at the end of the day
  • stiffened joints first thing in the morning or after sitting for a length of time
  • crepitus, which is a crackling or grating sound when moving the shoulder

Pain from shoulder osteoarthritis can come and go. It may last for a few weeks or months, and then there may be a period of time with little or no pain.

Learn more about shoulder pain.

The cause of shoulder osteoarthritis can depend on whether it is primary osteoarthritis or secondary osteoarthritis.

Primary osteoarthritis tends to develop over time due to wear and tear. It most commonly affects people over 50 years old. It is also more likely to develop in people assigned female at birth.

Learn more about primary osteoarthritis.

Secondary osteoarthritis typically has a known cause. It can happen as a result of:

Learn more about secondary osteoarthritis.

Treatment for shoulder osteoarthritis is typically nonsurgical. A doctor may recommend surgery if the pain is severe or not responding to nonsurgical treatments.

Nonsurgical treatments

Nonsurgical treatments for shoulder osteoarthritis may include:


Surgery for shoulder osteoarthritis can include a procedure called arthroscopy. This involves removing loose pieces of bone or cartilage.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend replacing damaged joints with an implant made from plastic, ceramic, or metal.

Surgery for shoulder osteoarthritis is typically a last resort. A doctor may only recommend surgery if symptoms do not respond to other treatments.

Learn about severe osteoarthritis.

To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may ask a person questions about their symptoms, take a full medical history, and perform a physical examination.

During the physical examination, the doctor may look for or test:

  • tenderness
  • pain
  • swelling or enlargement of the joint
  • muscle strength
  • range of motion
  • crepitus
  • signs of arthritis in other joints

The doctor may then order X-rays. This will allow them to look for narrowing in the joint space, any changes in the bone, and any signs of bone spurs.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, almost 1 in 3 people over 60 years old has some degree of shoulder osteoarthritis.

However, shoulder osteoarthritis is not as common as some other types of osteoarthritis, such as osteoarthritis of the hip or knee.

Learn more about osteoarthritis.

One of the main risk factors for shoulder osteoarthritis is aging. Primary osteoarthritis develops over time as a result of natural wear and tear.

Certain factors may increase the risk of secondary osteoarthritis of the shoulder. These include:

  • playing overhead or contact sports
  • performing heavy lifting tasks
  • history of shoulder injury

Learn more about the risk factors for osteoarthritis.

Having shoulder osteoarthritis may lead to complications such as limited range of motion. This can make it more difficult for a person to perform daily tasks.

As with any procedure, surgery for shoulder osteoarthritis may cause complications. A doctor can discuss the risk of complications with a person undergoing surgery and answer any questions.

Here are some common questions about shoulder osteoarthritis.

What does osteoarthritis in the shoulder feel like?

Shoulder osteoarthritis can feel painful. It can cause the shoulder to feel stiff. A person with shoulder osteoarthritis may find that stiffness is more prominent first thing in the morning or after sitting for a length of time.

How serious is osteoarthritis of the shoulder?

Shoulder osteoarthritis can vary in severity. Some people are able to alleviate symptoms without surgery. However, surgery may be necessary if the pain is severe and symptoms do not respond to nonsurgical treatments.

What is the best treatment for shoulder arthritis?

Doctors may recommend a range of different treatments for shoulder arthritis. These can include medications such as oral NSAIDs and corticosteroid injections, heat and cold therapy, and physical therapy.

Shoulder arthritis causes pain and stiffness around the shoulder and upper arm. It typically happens over time but can also develop due to an injury or infection.

Treatments for shoulder arthritis typically include medications, physical therapy, and heat and cold therapy. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery.

A person should contact a doctor as soon as they have concerns about shoulder osteoarthritis. A physical examination and X-rays can help with reaching an accurate diagnosis.