Shoulder bone spur: Causes, symptoms, treatment and exercises

shoulder bone spursFor the most part, shoulder bone spurs can be easily treated since they grow slowly and are usually stable. However, there are cases where the growth is quick and may require aggressive treatment.

A bone spur is an abnormal bone growth. It develops on the surface of bones. Bone spurs are most often found in the joints where one bone meets another bone. They also develop in areas where tendons and ligaments meet bone. They have the potential to be rather painful because they can rub up against nerves and surrounding tissue. While bone spurs are common in the feet, elbow, and spine, a bone spur in the shoulder can also occur.


A lot of people who have shoulder bone spurs do not experience any painful symptoms, while others do have discomfort in the shoulder area. Shoulder spurs are often referred to as osteophytes, which we will explain later. The spurs or shoulder osteophytes can impact range of motion in the shoulder for some individuals.

Also read: Pinched nerve in shoulder blade: Causes, symptoms, treatments, and exercises

What are the causes and risk factors of shoulder bone spurs?

When considering what causes bone spurs in the shoulder, we have to focus on two places—the shoulder joint or the area where tendons meet the shoulder bones. Sometimes, they can also form on part of the shoulder blade. The shoulder is actually a complex part of the human body, so shoulder bone spur causes involve various factors.

Here’s a look at some of the potential bone spur in shoulder causes:

  • Osteoarthritis: This can lead to a breakdown of shoulder cartilage that normally covers the end of bones. When it wears away due to osteoarthritis, the bones can rub against each other more often. The body tries to correct the problem by forming more bones, which is what causes osteophytes.
  • Physical trauma: An injury or trauma to the shoulder can lead to the development of osteophytes. Sometimes an injury to the neck or upper back region can cause the problem.
  • Spine or shoulder disorder: A condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis can cause bone spurs in the spine, shoulder, or neck. A disorder of the rotator cuff due to aging or repetitive use of the shoulder can also cause bone spurs.
  • Body weight: Excessive body weight and obesity have been linked to the formation of shoulder bone spurs.
  • Posture: A poor posture can weaken the supporting muscle and tissue surrounding bone and make the shoulders more prone to spurs.
  • Hereditary predisposition: Some people have a family history of bone spurs, and there is evidence that suggests there is a genetic connection.

Research indicates that an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for bone spurs. It is important to understand that poor diet, as well as obesity and poor posture, do not mean that you will automatically get a shoulder bone spur. Although it does mean that your chances of getting the condition compared to those without the risk factors is higher.

What are the symptoms of shoulder osteophytes?

The idea of bone rubbing against nerves and tissue sounds excruciating, but in reality, many people do not feel shoulder bone spurs symptoms. Though if someone has a large bone that pinches nerves or decreases the space in their shoulder joint, there will likely be significant symptoms.

In the vast majority of situations, it is osteoarthritis that is causing the shoulder bone spur. Pain is a common symptom associated with this type of bone spur formation. The pain tends to be worse when the sufferer starts activities. The pain is usually dull and achy but can be sharp with certain movements. The pain is happening in these cases because the spur is likely compressing a sensory nerve in the shoulder joint.

Swelling is another common symptom of shoulder bone spurs. Bone-on-bone rubbing leads to the release of chemicals that can cause swelling. The swelling may make the shoulder appear red or feel warm to the touch.

Mobility is significantly reduced in those who experience shoulder swelling. In extreme cases, the swelling can be so uncomfortable that it is difficult to find a good sleep position, so the sufferer has a lot of restless nights. When bone spurs impact the rotator cuff or limit movement of the humeral head and upper arm bone, surgery may be required. This is due to the fact that mobility is severely limited and spurs must be removed.

If the surrounding nerves are pinched, numbness or a tingling sensation can also be felt in the shoulder joint.

Also read: Pain between shoulder blades: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

How to diagnose bone spurs in the shoulder

Shoulder bone spur diagnosis begins with the doctor taking a detailed history and looking at the person for any signs of osteoarthritis. A physical examination will include assessing the range of motion, reflexes, and tenderness in the shoulder. The following tests may also be conducted:

  • X-ray: A non-invasive test to produce images of the bone
  • Computerized tomography (CT): This is a scan that takes a series of X-ray images from different angles. The images are merged together to create a cross-sectional image of bones as well as surrounding soft tissues.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A more detailed scan that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to capture images of bone and soft tissues.
  • Electromyography (EMG): This shows electrical activity of muscle during rest and contraction. It can be conducted if there are signs of muscle or nerve damage.
  • Nerve conduction velocity (NCV): Indicates the speed at which electrical signals move though affected nerve. Slow speed could indicate nerve damage.

Treatment options for shoulder bone spurs

Shoulder bone spurs treatment or osteophyte shoulder treatment can range from conservative measures and gentle nonsurgical approaches to surgical procedures. It all depends on the cause and the severity of the condition.

Let’s break down how to treat bone spurs in the shoulder:

Conservative approach

Can be used in cases of mild shoulder pain from bone spurs and involve cold therapy for the first 24 to 48 hours after injury. Heat can also be applied to help increase blood flow to the shoulder, which promotes healing. If approved by a doctor, the sufferer can take an anti-inflammatory to gain some relief.

Activity modification

Temporarily change the way activities are performed. For example, by dangling your arm and bending at the waist, you can apply deodorant without lifting your arm overhead. Lying on the unaffected side with a pillow under the affected arm can decrease pain when you are trying to sleep.

Non-surgical treatments

Some doctors may prescribe oral medications or medical injections directly into the shoulder as a form of bone spur in shoulder treatment. Physical therapy that includes an ultrasound, low-level laser therapy, and electrical stimulation, as well as special exercises to improve motion, can be considered.


In cases where range of motion is limited due to pressure on nerves or there are tears in the rotator cuff tendons, sometimes surgery is suggested. Depending on the level of damage, arthroscopic surgery, which is less invasive, can be conducted. It often involves making three very small incisions. Surgery is almost always followed by physical therapy. Shoulder bone spur surgery is usually the last resort.

Exercises for shoulder bone spurs

Shoulder bone spur exercises are designed to improve motion and help strengthen the stabilizer muscles that surround the shoulder joint. The activities described below are bone spur in shoulder exercises, but when practiced on a regular basis, they are known to help people prevent bone spurs in the first place.

Standing Cable External Rotation

If you work at a desk or computer, you will be able to relate to the tension many people experience in the shoulders. The activity of working at a desk day in and day out means shoulders are constantly internally rotated. This can lengthen and weaken the muscles. You can strengthen these muscles by performing cable external rotations.

Those who suffer rotator cuff tears, such as baseball players, are often prescribed this type of exercise.

On an adjustable cable machine, you move the cable until the handle sits between your belly button and the bottom of your chest. You grab the handle in your right or left hand while your elbow is close to your body with your forearm crossing your stomach. You pull the cable as far away from your body as you can while keeping the elbow close to your body. If you are comfortable enough, you can repeat three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Dumbbell Lying Shoulder External Rotation

After bench pressing or overhead pressing, it is suggested that you use light dumbbells. The exercise addresses smaller muscles that help in larger motions.

You can lie on your side on a yoga mat and keep your knees slightly bent but stack your legs on top of one another. Take a dumbbell and place your elbow against the side of your hip and leg while you rest your forearm on your stomach. Externally rotate your shoulder and lift the dumbbell until it is parallel with the side of your body. You can repeat two or three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.

Reverse Flyes

The rear deltoid can be overlooked in training but reverse flyes can strengthen this part of the body. This exercise involves the muscles of the rotator cuff.

You take two light dumbbells and stand with your feet about hip distance apart or you sit on a workout bench. Push your hips back just until you have a slight bend in your knees with your chest pointed toward the ground. Your elbows should also have a slight bend in them and your palms should face one another. Lift your arms, until they have reached the same height as your shoulders. Pause for just a second and then return to the starting position. You can do two sets of 15 to 20 repetitions if you are comfortable with this exercise.

No matter what exercise you might be drawn to, it is best to talk to a doctor beforehand to ensure that you are ready for such activity.

Also read: Shoulder arthritis exercises: Stretching, rehab, and aerobics

Complications of shoulder bone spurs

There can be some complications associated with bone spurs of the shoulder. Without proper treatment, bone spurs can cause severe pain. When it comes to surgery and removing bone spurs, infection at the site can occur as well as permanent damage to the nerves in the shoulder. There are even cases where the relief from surgery is only temporary and the bone spur grows back. It is important to note that many people who do go through bone spur surgery don’t experience any problems afterward.

Prevention and prognosis of shoulder bone spurs

In some cases, bone spurs can be avoided. For example, maintaining a healthy body weight through a good diet and regular exercise can lower your risk of developing bone spurs or osteophytes. Taking frequent breaks while working on the computer can help lessen strain on the shoulders, and limiting activities that involve repetitive stress on the shoulders can be helpful. It is advisable to wear proper protective gear when taking part in high-impact sports.

In most situations, bone spurs in the shoulder are resolved quickly. Of course, sometimes people experience recurrent bone spurs. If you have suffered a bone spur and only required conservative treatment, keep in mind that the next bone spur may require a more aggressive approach. When you have pain in the shoulder that doesn’t go away or limits your ability to carry out every day tasks, get a medical assessment.



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