No one knows the exact cause of shoulder osteoarthritis, but most people who develop osteoarthritis have at least one of the traits below.

    Shoulder joint trauma. A broken bone, dislocation (when the humeral head pops out of its socket), or other serious injury or surgery can cause damage to the shoulder joint that eventually leads to shoulder osteoarthritis. Symptoms may not appear until many years after the trauma.

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    Shoulder joint stress and chronic injury. People whose jobs or recreational lifestyle require spending a lot of time lifting objects overhead, throwing, or doing high-impact activities, such as chopping wood or using an air-hammer, can experience “mini-traumas” in their shoulder joints, which in turn make them more likely to develop shoulder osteoarthritis.

    Advanced Age. Shoulder arthritis most commonly affects people over the age of 50.2 The prevalence of symptomatic osteoarthritis increases with age because, over time, the shoulder joints experience wear and tear and cartilage thins and becomes less flexible.

    Congenital defect or illness. Poor bone alignment, which also makes some people more likely to suffer shoulder dislocations, can increase the risk of developing shoulder osteoarthritis. Other congenital conditions, metabolic disorders, and episodes of gout or septic arthritis can also increase risk.

    Gender. Glenohumeral arthritis is more common in women.3

    Family history. Similar to height and hair color, the likelihood of a person developing shoulder osteoarthritis is influenced by genetics. While the exact extent of genetic factors are not known, a woman whose mother has shoulder osteoarthritis is more likely to develop the disease than another woman whose mother did not have the shoulder osteoarthritis.4

While the above risks factors predispose certain individuals to shoulder osteoarthritis, they are not causative: people without the above risk factors may develop the condition and people with all of the above characteristics may never develop it.

If shoulder pain comes on suddenly, it is more likely to be caused by trauma or another condition, not by shoulder osteoarthritis. If the shoulder feels hot or the skin around the joint turns red, then osteoarthritis is probably not the culprit. An infection, rheumatoid arthritis, or another condition may be the cause.


  1. "Arthritis of the Shoulder," American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, accessed September 8, 2011,
  2. “AAOS releases clinical practices on glenohumeral OA” by Ilya Voloshin, accessed September 2011,
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Osteoarthritis, accessed September 2011,