There are 4 joints in the complex anatomy of the shoulder. The most familiar shoulder joint is the main ball-and-socket joint that connects the upper arm to the shoulder, also known as the glenohumeral joint.

We have a great video that explains the development of glenohumeral shoulder arthritis and the symptoms it causes.

See how osteoarthritis develops in the main joint of the shoulder. Watch: Shoulder Osteoarthritis Video

How shoulder osteoarthritis develops

The glenohumeral joint is at the point where the top of the arm’s humerus bone fits into the glenoid, a circular depression in the shoulder’s scapula bone. This ball-and-socket configuration allows the arm to have an impressive range of motion.

See Shoulder Joint Structure


Both the femeral head and the glenoid are covered in a layer of cartilage that enables smooth movement of the bones and also provides shock absorption.

But osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage layer on the glenoid, known as the labrum, to become thinner or damaged. It may even disappear. The cartilage covering the humeral head may also degenerate.

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Causes

As cartilage is lost on both joint surfaces, the bones can start to grind against each other, causing pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

See Shoulder Osteoarthritis Symptoms

This friction from the bone-on-bone contact can cause the growth of bone spurs or osteophytes. They may grow on the edge of the glenoid or around the humeral head in a pattern known as a “goat’s beard.”

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder can cause the joint to catch or pause in movement. It may also cause popping or crunching sounds known as crepitus.

See What Is Crepitus?

As the condition progresses, patients can also lose range of motion. Even mild joint degeneration can cause significant pain.

Ways to relieve symptoms of shoulder arthritis

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis cannot be cured or reversed. But treatment options can help you manage the pain and stiffness that osteoarthritis causes, and even help slow down the progression of joint deterioration.

Try these tactics to ease symptoms:

Shoulder stretches
To maintain range of motion and fight stiffness, it's essential to stretch and strengthen the shoulder. Try these shoulder stretches to maintain flexibility and build strength.

See Shoulder Stretches

See Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

Doctors often recommend these medications to relieve arthritis pain and/or swelling, especially over-the-counter NSAIDs.

See Pain Medications for Arthritis Pain Relief

Hot and cold therapy
Applying both heat and cold can help a painful or stiff shoulder. The guide below can help you determine the best circumstance to use either heat or cold therapy.

See Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint

Learn more:

Shoulder Osteoarthritis Treatment

Who Is a Candidate for Total Shoulder Replacement Surgery?