News | Blogs

Is Your Shoulder Pain a Symptom of Osteoarthritis in the Shoulder?

with arthritis in the shoulder joint. Pain highlighted in the shoulder

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. In the UK, approximately nine million people are affected by osteoarthritis. It can occur at any age but is most likely to begin in individuals aged mid-40s and upwards. While the most likely areas of the body to be affected are weight-bearing joints such as the feet, knees and hips, the condition can affect any joint in your body. If you feel pain or stiffness around the shoulder joint, it could be a sign of osteoarthritis. In this blog, learn more about osteoarthritis of the shoulder, how to diagnose it, and what you can do to manage its impact.

How does osteoarthritis in the shoulder start?

Osteoarthritis begins when cartilage between the joints begins to thin and rough. Cartilage is a tough, flexible tissue that protects your joints and stops friction between the bones. When the cartilage begins to thin, its protective cushioning weakens. The loss of cartilage can be a natural occurrence due to ageing, but it can also become damaged and wear down due to an injury. Being overweight can also increase the risk of it becoming thinner and rougher.

Once the cartilage starts to reduce, the body begins to repair the damage, substituting for the loss of cartilage. The repair process may be successful; if not, the individual may face further issues. The bone underneath the cartilage may respond by growing thicker or developing new bits of bones within the joint. If this happens, it will likely cause pain, swelling and limited joint movement.

There can be several reasons osteoarthritis affects an individual. As mentioned above, an injury, obesity, or repetitive strain on the joints. The condition can also be related to family history; however, the cause is usually difficult to pinpoint.

Note; many people who have osteoarthritis of the shoulder might not experience any symptoms. Despite OA being a common condition, you shouldn’t dismiss it if you feel pain, swelling and restricted movement in the shoulder. With the right treatment plan involving a few lifestyle changes, you can alleviate pain and improve mobility by a considerable amount.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

You should consult your GP or healthcare professional if you suspect that you have osteoarthritis of the shoulder. Your GP will advise treatments based on your diagnosis. Visit your GP if you are experiencing any or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent shoulder pain: If shoulder pain is continuous and doesn’t improve or worsens over time. Pain can occur in the front, side or back of the shoulder.
  • Limited movement and stiffness: If you find it difficult to move your shoulder fully or experience a stiff shoulder.
  • Swelling or tenderness: If you feel swelling, tenderness, or warmth around the shoulder joint, this could be due to inflammation associated with OA.
  • Impact on routine tasks: If your shoulder impacts your ability to perform daily tasks or affects your quality of life.
  • A grating or crackling sound: OA can cause the shoulder to make a crackling sound when you move your shoulder joint.

Firstly, your GP will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing. Questions may include:

  • When the symptoms began.
  • What may have caused these to develop.
  • Its impact on your life.
  • Any factors that increase or reduce the symptoms.

With this information, your GP can diagnose the cause of the symptoms.

They may also physically examine the shoulder, checking for any tenderness or swelling and gauging the movement of the shoulder.

Tests such as X-rays are not likely to be offered, as it is rarely necessary or helpful in diagnosing OA.

How to manage osteoarthritis of the shoulder

If you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, bear in mind that there aren’t usually any serious complications. However, living with osteoarthritis can still be hard. Although there is currently no cure, there are ways to manage the condition. It is advisable to seek guidance from your doctor on which treatments to follow, as the severity of symptoms can vary between individuals. Generally, the following methods are helpful in reducing the impact of osteoarthritis.

Engage in regular exercise.

When experiencing any level of pain or reduced mobility, people may be concerned about partaking in exercise. The concern could be due to the fear of symptoms or condition worsening, but exercising is vital in managing osteoarthritis.

Begin a daily routine with slow and manageable exercises. Aim for a duration of 10-20 minutes, building up to 150 minutes per week. It is best to avoid activities that put too much strain on your shoulder, such as lifting weights. Activities such as swimming and cycling are great activities to engage in.

Stretching exercises are also beneficial, as they keep the joints moving, helping to improve movement and flexibility. Strengthening exercises contribute to increased muscle strength and protection of joints.

It is a good idea to vary the exercises to stay motivated. Work on different areas and avoid overusing specific muscles or putting excessive stress on the shoulder joint.

Maintain good posture.

Try to maintain a good posture, as bad posture can exacerbate the pain and make the condition harder to manage. When seated, ensure you are sitting comfortably and upright. Avoid slouching or straining to reach objects that are out of reach. If you work at a desk, adjust your workstation to support good posture. Your chair should be at the correct height, and the top of the screen should be at eye level. If you work on a laptop, use a laptop riser, additional keyboard, and mouse.

Avoid strain on your shoulder.

Don’t be afraid to carry on with your normal routine but do try to take it easy. You may have to make some changes to your normal activities. Try to avoid anything that puts too much pressure on the affected joint as this can worsen symptoms. Also, steer clear of carrying heavy objects that require your shoulder to bear the load.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity or being overweight could lead to prolonged pain, making it harder to manage osteoarthritis. Being overweight puts more pressure on your joints. Levels of inflammation in the body are likely to be higher as well. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight means being kinder to your joints and decreasing the risk of inflammation. Regular exercise and making healthier diet choices will contribute to weight loss, reducing the impact of OA.

Other options to relieve pain

Heat and cold therapy

It is good for pain relief and reducing stiffness and inflammation in the shoulder. If you are experiencing swelling or tenderness in the affected area, an ice pack may help to numb the pain. You can purchase gel-filled cold packs or use a bag of frozen peas. Do not apply ice packs directly to the skin! Wrap the item in a protective covering, such as a thin towel, to prevent ice burns. You can hold the insulated pack on the painful joint for 10-20 minutes.

Apply heat to the body to relax the muscles, soothe pain and reduce stiffness. A hot water bottle, heat packs, or a warm bath can be beneficial. Like ice packs, wrap heat packs in a towel or cloth too. Apply heat packs for 20 minutes 2-3 times daily, but do not fall asleep with a heat pack on! Set an alarm if you are concerned about falling asleep.


Medication can help manage pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. Chronic pain can also be both physically and emotionally stressful. Therefore, targeting the pain with medicines may make it easier to integrate a routine to manage osteoarthritis long-term. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be beneficial in easing pain but may be ineffective if the pain is due to inflammation. For relief of both pain and inflammation, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may be more effective. Note that whilst most people can take NSAIDs safely, there are some scenarios in which you should consult with a pharmacist or your doctor first. For instance, if you are taking other medicines or are pregnant. Here is a list from NHS which specifies who should seek advice before taking NSAIDs.

If the pain has not improved despite trying paracetamol or NSAIDs, you may want to discuss other options with your doctor. They may recommend trying stronger painkillers such as co-codamol which can be used in the short-term.


The first sign of osteoarthritis in the shoulder is pain. Stiffness, swelling or a grating sound in the shoulder joint may also occur. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult your GP. If you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, remember that the severity of the condition varies among individuals. If you experience symptoms, these can be improved. Developing a routine of regular exercises, ensuring good posture when seated or working for long hours, avoiding heavy load on the shoulders, and maintaining a healthy weight can all be beneficial in managing osteoarthritis symptoms.

Combining treatments such as heat and cold therapy and drugs can be considered to target and alleviate pain, swelling and inflammation. Be sure to take professional medical advice to verify the suitability of medication for your symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend or prescribe painkillers to help ease the pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis. Trying to gain access to prescriptions can sometimes take a long time, and we understand how difficult it can be to wait in line and collect medication when experiencing health problems. If you need access to prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or other health products fast, Meds4Healthcare offers a safe and approved service.

See the range of pain relief medications here.


Versus Arthritis


National Library of Medicine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *