Non-operative management of shoulder osteoarthritis: Current concepts

J ISAKOS. 2023 Oct;8(5):289-295. doi: 10.1016/j.jisako.2023.06.002. Epub 2023 Jun 13.


Glenohumeral osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Conservative treatment options include physical therapy, pharmacological therapy, and biological therapy. Patients with glenohumeral OA present shoulder pain and decreased shoulder range of motion (ROM). Abnormal scapular motion is also seen in patients as adaptation to the restricted glenohumeral motion. Physical therapy is performed to (1) decrease pain, (2) increase shoulder ROM, and (3) protect the glenohumeral joint. To decrease pain, it should be assessed whether the pain appears at rest or during shoulder motion. Physical therapy may be effective for motion pain rather than rest pain. To increase shoulder ROM, the soft tissues responsible for the ROM loss need to be identified and targeted for intervention. To protect the glenohumeral joint, rotator cuff strengthening exercises are recommended. Administration of pharmacological agents is the major part next to physical therapy in the conservative treatment. The main aim of pharmacological treatment is the reduction of pain and diminution of inflammation in the joint. To achieve this aim, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended as first-line therapy. Additionally, the supplementation of oral vitamin C and vitamin D can help to slow down cartilage degeneration. Depending on the individual comorbidities and contraindications, sufficient medication with good pain reduction is thus possible for each patient. This interrupts the chronic inflammatory state in the joint and, in turn, enables pain-free physical therapy. Biologics such as platelet-rich plasma, bone marrow aspirate concentrate, and mesenchymal stem cells have gathered increased attention. Good clinical outcomes have been reported, but we need to be aware that these options are helpful in decreasing shoulder pain but neither stopping the progression nor improving OA. Further evidence of biologics needs to be obtained to determine their effectiveness. In athletes, a combined approach of activity modification and physical therapy can be effective. Oral medications can provide patients with transient pain relief. Intra-articular corticosteroid injection, which provides longer-term effects, must be used cautiously in athletes. There is mixed evidence for the efficacy of hyaluronic acid injections. There is still limited evidence regarding the use of biologics.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Products*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intra-Articular / adverse effects
  • Osteoarthritis* / therapy
  • Shoulder
  • Shoulder Pain / etiology
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy


  • Biological Products