Bone spurs do not always require treatment, and you may not even know you have them. Sometimes, however, they can injure the rotator cuff tendons that move your shoulder -- causing pain, swelling, inflammation or tears in the tendons. Spurs may develop with arthritis and aging, trauma or repeated overuse of your arm. Treatments for conditions caused by bone spurs include conservative measures, nonsurgical interventions or surgery. Seek medical attention if you lose the ability to move the shoulder or if your pain does not improve within a few days.
Mild shoulder pain caused by bone spurs may be successfully treated at home. If your shoulder pain is due to a recent trauma, cold may be effective for the first 24 to 48 hours after injury. Heat can also be used to increase blood flow to your shoulder and promote healing. This is often effective for bone spurs that have been caused by ongoing conditions such as arthritis. If approved by your doctor, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) may help provide relief.
Daily activities can increase pain caused by bone spurs, particularly if they require you to reach overhead. If these activities cannot be avoided, you may need to temporarily change the way you do them. For example, by dangling your arm and bending at your waist, you can apply deodorant to your underarm without lifting your arm overhead. Sleeping can also be difficult with a painful shoulder. Lying on the unaffected side with a pillow under the affected arm may decrease pain while you sleep.
If conservative treatment fails, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids or inject medication directly into your shoulder joint. You may likewise benefit from physical therapy involving not only pain-relieving interventions such as ultrasound, low-level laser therapy and electrical stimulation, but also exercises to improve shoulder motion and strength. A procedure called prolotherapy -- injection of a substance into the joint to stimulate a repair response -- has been proposed as a complementary therapy for shoulder pain, but there is not yet sufficient scientific evidence to recommend its use for the shoulder.
Bone spurs that limit your range of motion or press on nerves may require surgical removal. Tears in the rotator cuff tendons are sometimes repaired when these spurs are removed. Depending on the severity of the damage, surgery may be performed arthroscopically -- using 3 very small incisions -- or it may require a larger incision. In younger people, arthroscopic surgery is typically performed. Physical therapy is prescribed to improve range of motion and strength after surgery.
Is This an Emergency?
- The Open Orthopaedics Journal: The Painful Shoulder -- Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
- The Open Orthopaedics Journal: Arthroscopic Management of Shoulder Osteoarthritis
- University of Rochester Medical Center: When to Use Hot and Cold Therapy
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems
- American Family Physician: Management of Chronic Tendon Injuries