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Shoulder Osteoarthritis

What is osteoarthritis of the shoulder?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition that affects the joints, which can cause pain, stiffness, and difficulty with everyday tasks.

Your shoulders, like other joints, constantly undergo a normal balance of remodelling and repair which usually goes unnoticed.

Sometimes if we do more than usual, or there is an injury, this balance may be disturbed causing pain, swelling or heat in the joint. This is known as a flare up and may last for up to 24 weeks.

What are the symptoms?

People may experience a range of different symptoms from mild to severe, such as:

  • Pain in the shoulder and upper arm
  • Pain towards the neck and further down the arm
  • Pain and stiffness that can be constant or comes and goes
  • Limitation in shoulder movement (such as when you reach up behind your head, or behind your back etc)
  • Pain that may disturb your sleep
  • Stiffness is worse after periods of rest, or first thing in the morning but eases within 30 minutes

What are the causes?

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unclear. People often think it is only related to age, however this is not true, there are other factors to consider such as:

  • Gender – It is more common in women than men
  • Previous history of Gout or Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Previous injury for example shoulder dislocation or fracture
  • Previous surgery to the shoulder
  • Age – over 50
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Smoking

What can I do to help myself?

Stay Positive

This is a common problem that usually resolves over time (see times suggested above).

Modify Activities

Reduce or change any specific activities that aggravate your symptoms but do not stop completely.

Avoid lying on the Affected Arm

Try to avoid lying on the affected arm in bed. Lie on the other side with a pillow under the arm to support it.

Re-arrange Cupboards

Re-arrange your kitchen cupboards so the items that you use regularly are on the lower shelves and are easy to reach.

Use Assistive Devices

There are various devices that you could use to help you with some movements such as ‘grabbers’.

Regular Pain Relief (Paracetamol or Ibuprofen)

Check with a pharmacist for safety if unsure. If stronger pain relief is required please discuss this with your GP.

Use Heat or Ice Packs.

Apply this to the shoulder to help ease the pain (wrap the pack in a towel and check the skin regularly for signs of burns).

What else can I do?

Increasing general aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming have been shown to help. You can also do regular exercise focusing on movement and strengthening the shoulder. We have included some exercises below for you to try:



Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder – Early


Osteoarthritis of the Shoulder – Mid

Do I need an x-ray or scan?

In most cases, no. A good history and physical examination of your shoulder alone provides enough information to diagnose your problem. Scans and x-rays are not always useful for diagnosing shoulder pain. While a scan or x-ray may provide information it rarely alters the treatment plan. 

Imaging findings are very poorly linked with pain and often people with no pain have very similar findings on their scans/x-rays to those that do. X-rays and scans can help for a small number of people in certain situations and will be recommended by a healthcare professional if required.

What about a steroid injection?

A steroid injection may be considered to help control the pain in some circumstances. The risks and benefits would be discussed with your Physiotherapist or GP and is not always an appropriate option for all patients.

Get advice from 111 now if:

  • the pain is sudden or extremely severe
  • you cannot move your arm
  • your arm or shoulder has changed shape or is badly swollen
  • you have severe pins and needles that do not go away
  • your arm or shoulder is hot or cold to touch
  • the pain is severe and started after an injury or accident, like a fall
  • hurts when you exercise but goes away when your rest
  • you are experiencing chest pain/tightness with your shoulder pain

111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.

Go to or call 111.

If your shoulder pain persists, or you are not sure what to do, you can self-refer to see a local physiotherapist who can help you with your problem.

Physiotherapy self-referral

If you are an NHS patient registered to a qualifying GP surgery, you can now refer yourself directly for MSK physiotherapy without needing an appointment at your GP practice.

You must be aged 16 or over and registered with a Wakefield GP.

Call 01924 224497 or complete the online form by clicking the link below.