Loss of joint space, formation of osteophytes and deformation are common features of osteoarthritis. Little information exists about the radiological features of arthrosis in relation to clinical findings and the radiological appearance in degenerative shoulder joint disease especially with regard to decision making about the timing of joint replacement. We retrospectively examined 120 standardised X-rays of patients with advanced osteoarthritis of the shoulder. Exclusion criteria included rotator cuff tear, severe glenoid erosion or protrusion. Measurements of joint space width at three levels in each plane (anteroposterior and axillary view), humeral head diameter and size of humeral osteophytes were made by two independent examiners. Osteoarthritis was graded according to Samilson and Prieto. Seventy-five of these patients had a complete record from the clinical investigation (pain record on VAS scale, active and passive range of motion) and the constant score (CS). Mean joint space width in the central anteroposterior level was 1.46 mm +/- 1.08 and in the central axillary 0.98 mm +/- 1.02. Increasing age was positively correlated with joint space narrowing at all measured levels. The joint space width was not correlated with the Samilson grade or the size of osteophytes. The joint space width was neither correlated with pain nor active or passive ROM. Pain was correlated with active and passive flexion and abduction but not for internal or external rotation. The size of the osteophytes was negatively correlated (active and passive) with flexion, abduction and external and internal rotation. The study illustrates that joint space narrowing and development of osteophytes are reliable but independent parameters of primary shoulder arthrosis and should be recorded separately. The size of the caudal humeral osteophyte is a predictive factor for function and should be taken into account for clinical decision making. The primary clinical feature, pain, as the main indication for surgery is not related to radiological parameters.