Shoulder osteophytes, also known as bone spurs, are additional bone-like growth formed on the bone itself. Unlike common assumptions, a bone spur is usually smooth in nature. However it can cause pain because of the bone impinging or pressing down upon softer tissues such as tendons and ligaments.
Shoulder osteophytes normally occur when the body tries to exert its own healing process by creating new bone. This usually happens when the shoulder has been subjected to wear and tear for a prolonged period of time. The shoulder is one of the joints in the body that can move in a number of ways. The tendons, ligaments and muscles that make up the joint tend to rub against each other and when this happens for a long time there is a likelihood that bone spurs may form. Tendons attach the rotator cuff muscles to the upper arm, moving through a narrow area and hence rubbing against the bones. What happen as a result are inflammation, irritation, weakness, stiffness and pain. In severe cases this might even lead to a tear in the rotator cuff tendon.
Bone spurs have no visible symptoms and hence in many cases people are unaware of having this bone disease. It is only when the pain becomes unbearable that shoulder osteophyte makes itself known. X-rays can identify such bone spurs, but given the lack of external symptoms, it is unusual for the patient to go in for an x-ray early on.
Usually, shoulder osteophytes do not need to be treated unless they cause pain or lead to damage in the shoulder joint itself. If the need arises, treatment has to be steered towards the bone spur, cause or symptom, as the case may be. To treat the bone spur directly, one commonly suggested method is exercise prescription and posture advice. This is covered in great detail in my book, Exercise your Shoulder Pain Free.
In case of shoulder pain, it is a good idea to visit a physical therapist who can perform deep tissue massage or ultrasound. In case the bone spur continues to exhibit the symptoms, then the patient might even be told to take corticosteroid injections. These injections are given deep in the shoulder and are designed to reduce the inflammation and pain of those soft tissues that lie near the bone.
Shoulder osteophytes can also be removed surgically.
In other cases, when surgery needs to be performed to repair or replace the joint, bone spurs can be treated as a part of that process. One example of such surgical procedure is the removal of small spurs that lie underneath the shoulder’s point, known as the acromion. If you have had or are considering shoulder surgery for removal of a bone spur, buy my book Exercise your Shoulder after Surgery.