Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) consist of excess bone growth around your joints, and are common in older adults.
Bone spurs in the shoulders may develop as a result of degenerative joint conditions as well as injuries and general wear and tear.
At first, a bone spur in the shoulder may not present any symptoms. But as the underlying cause of the bone spur progresses, you may start feeling pain and discomfort in your shoulder area and you may need medical treatment.
Learn what causes bone spurs in the shoulders, symptoms, and treatment options.
Bone spurs in the shoulders don’t always cause symptoms unless they press on nerve endings or they grow larger. But bone spurs caused by arthritis are often painful.
Possible early signs of a bone spur or joint problem in the shoulder include:
- visible swelling (inflammation)
- numbness or tenderness
- a visible lump (in the case of large bone spurs)
In some cases, excess bone growths continue undetected until you’re diagnosed with an underlying condition. In other cases, progressive worsening of bone spur symptoms may prompt a doctor’s visit and diagnosis.
Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing the following issues in one or both shoulders:
- pain that gradually gets worse
- sharp pains that radiate across your back or through the affected arm
- tingling sensations along with numbness
- muscle spasms
- a decreased range in motion
You should also see a doctor if the above symptoms interfere with your daily activities, such as:
- sports or other athletic activities
- picking up or reaching for object
To confirm bone spurs in the shoulders, a doctor will likely order imaging tests.
Only an X-ray is necessary to confirm the presence of a bone spur. But other tests can show bone spurs, including:
A bone spur will appear as an area of extra growth extending from an existing bone. Below are a few examples of what this may look like on X-ray imaging tests.
The causes of bone spurs are usually related to arthritis, including:
- osteoarthritis (OA)
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- post-traumatic arthritis, a type of OA
The likelihood of developing bone spurs increases with age. Age-related conditions, such as OA, cause joint tissue to wear down, and bone spurs can grow in their place.
While OA isn’t the only cause of bone spurs, this form of arthritis is the most common type that affects the shoulder area. OA may affect areas along the back or top of the shoulder.
Possible causes of bone spurs in the shoulders may include:
- over-use injuries from playing certain sports, such as tennis, baseball, and golf
- work injuries
- automobile accidents
The following factors could also increase your risk for bone spurs:
- lack of regular exercise that strengthens bones and joints
- overweight and obesity
- heredity, or a family history of OA and other degenerative diseases
Certain rheumatic diseases can also impact your bones and joints,
Bone spurs often develop along with other degenerative conditions like OA. To diagnose bone spurs in the shoulders andtheir underlying cause, a doctor will likely:
- conduct a physical exam to test movement in your shoulders and to see if the bone spur is big enough to detect by touch
- go over your medical history, including personal or family history of bone spurs or arthritis
- ask you about any history of injuries, including sports-related incidents, falls, and automobile accidents
- order imaging tests like X-rays as well as MRIs and/or CT scans (if necessary)
- order additional lab work, such as blood tests, that can help detect rheumatoid factors to help rule out possible autoimmune diseases
Depending on the findings, you may be diagnosed with bone spurs that have developed as a result of an underlying condition, with OA being the most common.
To treat bone spurs in your shoulders, a doctor will likely recommend medications and home remedies first. Treatments for underlying arthritis that causes your bone spurs is also commonly recommended.
Treatment options include:
- over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers
- steroid injections to reduce inflammation
- disease-modifying drugs for rheumatic diseases
- ice and heat therapy
- resting the affected shoulder
- massage therapy for pain management
- physical and/or occupational therapy exercises to increase strength and mobility
If your symptoms severely limit your range of motion, surgery — such as a shoulder arthroscopy — may also be recommended.
During this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions around the shoulder to make room for a specialized camera called an arthroscope. They will then remove diseased tissue and excess bone that may be causing your pain.
Another rare option is shoulder replacement surgery. While not used for bone spurs alone, this surgery may be recommended for significant arthritis symptoms that don’t respond to treatment and interfere with your daily life.
This surgery involves the removal of diseased joints and replacing then with healthy ones. During surgery, bone spurs are also removed.
Along with physical or occupational therapies, a doctor will likely recommend at-home shoulder exercises. These can help alleviate pain while increasing mobility.
Crossover arm stretches
Here’s how to do these back-of-the-shoulder stretches:
- Stand straight with your shoulders rolled back in a relaxed posture.
- Pull your arm gently across your chest, placing the opposite hand above the elbow (not on top of it).
- Hold for 30 seconds before repeating with the other arm.
- Alternate arms for up to 4 repetitions each.
Passive internal rotations
These exercises work the frontof the shoulders. Do them in the following steps with a lightweight stick:
- Stand up straight, placing the lightweight stick behind your body.
- Hold one end of the stick in one hand, then grab the other side with your opposite hand.
- Gently pull the stick in a horizontal motion until you feel light pressure in the front part of your shoulder.
- Hold this for 30 seconds before repeating on the opposite arm.
- Alternate arms for up to 3 repetitions.
Bone spurs consist of extra bone that can sometimes grow in response to injuries, wear-and-tear, and degenerative conditions like OA.
While surgery is an option in severe cases, your doctor will likely recommend non-surgical treatments first. This may include a combination of medications, injections, and physical therapy.
See a doctor if you suspect you have a bone or joint issue in your shoulders in order to diagnose your condition and get appropriate treatment.