Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Shoulder Osteoarthritis: Treating Your Pain


Am Fam Physician. 2008 Sep 1;78(5):612.

  See related article on shoulder osteoarthritis.

What is shoulder osteoarthritis?

Shoulder osteoarthritis (OSS-tee-oh-arth-RYE-tis) is a disease that causes the cushion layer between the bones in your shoulder to wear away. It may cause pain and stiffness in your shoulder. You may also have trouble moving your shoulder. This is the most common type of arthritis. It is also called degenerative joint disease.

How can my doctor tell if I have it?

Many different things can cause shoulder pain, such as tendon problems, sore muscles, or arthritis. Your doctor will ask if your shoulder pain gets worse with activity and better with rest. He or she will examine you to see if you have trouble moving your arm. When the doctor presses your shoulder joint, it may feel tender. Your doctor may also take an x-ray of your shoulder to see what is causing the pain.

How is it treated?

Your doctor may tell you to rest your shoulder or put ice on it. Physical therapy and exercise may help. Your doctor may recommend pain pills, such as acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (one brand: Motrin). If you are still in pain, your doctor may give you a shot of medicine in your shoulder.

If none of these treatments work, you may need surgery. The kind of surgery you have will depend on your age and how bad the disease is.

What can I expect?

Your shoulder may feel better with the right exercises, pain medicine, or surgery. However, your symptoms may come and go over time.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Arthritis Foundation

Web site:

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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