Injuries and conditions

Shoulder Spur

Shoulder Spur

Shoulder spurs occur due to extra bone formation under the acromion. Some patients are predisposed due to their anatomy; but in most patients it occurs over time due to overuse and repeated overhead shoulder activity. The extra bone formation narrows the space for the supraspinatus tendon and it may even cause tendon tears.

Shoulder spurs often occur with other conditions in the shoulder and therefore it requires careful workup and investigation to exclude subacromial bursitis, biceps tendonitis, biceps tendon tears, SLAP tears, supraspinatus and subscapularis tendon tears.

There are a number of areas that may be pain generators within your shoulder joint and subacromial space. A careful history, examination, and review of your imaging will identify the areas of concern.

Shoulder spur (Acromion bone spur)

  • The acromion forms the roof of the shoulder joint; over time a bone spur may form under the acromion narrowing the subacromial space

Subacromial bursitis

  • The bursa may become inflamed and swell with more fluid resulting in pain

Impingement Syndrome

  • This is caused by a bone spur and bursitis above your tendon and below the roof of the shoulder (acromion)
  • Spurs can cause impingement when your shoulder is elevated and this can lead to “pinching” of the tendon below, especially when the bursa is inflamed.


  • The above three issues may cause the tendon below to become irritated or damaged leading to inflammation of the tendon and eventually even tearing.

Shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint)

  • Bone spurs may occur within the joint too – usually in the setting of osteoarthritis

Medical diagram showing the anatomy of the shoulder pointing out where an Acromion bone spur can be located

Medical image showing the shoulder anatomy pointing out Subacromial Bursitis and Acromion Bone Spur leading to shoulder impingement

Shoulder overload

  • Repeated motion, particular overhead, may lead to an overuse syndrome and result in inflammation of the bursa with eventual bone spur formation and rotator cuff tendonitis. The coracoacromial ligament thickens over time and places tension on the undersurface of the acromion.
  • Workplace injury may occur this way with manual occupations that involve heavy lifting and/or overhead work – such as painters, construction workers, electricians and carpenters.

Inflamed or Arthritic shoulder joint

  • When the entire shoulder joint is inflamed (such as with shoulder arthritis or gout), there may be shoulder spurs that form within the shoulder joint and in the subacromial space (under the roof of the acromion).

Shoulder spurs commonly cause tenderness over the side of the shoulder. Patients often report pain, pinching, or stiffness when lifting their arms. There may also be pain when the arm is lowered from an elevated position.

Initially, the symptoms are often mild and tolerable – in such cases patients do not often seek treatment.

These symptoms are typical:

  • Pain that is present with activity and rest
  • Pain radiating from the top of the shoulder (either at the front or the side) down the side of the arm
  • Sudden pain with reaching or lifting movements
  • Overhead athletes may report pain with particular actions (such as a tennis serve or throwing a ball)

As the condition progresses the symptoms may worsen and not respond with periods of rest and activity modification:

  • Night pain (particularly waking you up at night)
  • Inability to lie on the affected side at all
  • Reduced strength and range of motion
  • Difficulty with activities that require the arm behind the back – such as button, zippering, putting on bra etc

When the symptoms persist and affect your quality of life then it is important to seek review.


A thorough examination of the shoulder is required, including checking areas of tenderness, range of motion, associated pathology (such as biceps tendon or rotator cuff tears) and then special impingement tests to isolate the subacromial space and the acromion bone spur.


A plain X-ray will often show a spur under the acromion and in some cases, there may be an exaggerated curve under the acromion (a type 2 or type 3 acromion). Patients with a type 2 or 3 acromion are at increased risk of shoulder impingement and tendon tears.

MRI will show the soft tissues in greater detail and demonstrate any fluid or inflammation in the bursa. It will also show the rotator cuff and biceps  – looking for any partial or complete tears.

An combination of 3 medical diagrams and 3 supporting xrays to show the difference between a flat, curve and hook acromion

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and restore function; in planning your treatment your age, activity level, occupation, and general health will be considered.

In most cases, the initial treatment for subacromial bursitis is non-surgical; it may take weeks or months to notice gradual improvement and return to function. The principles around non-surgical treatment include rest, activity modification,non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and physiotherapy. An ultrasound-guided cortisone injection is very effective with both diagnosis and treatment of subacromial bursitis. Such injections may provide relief for anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. Generally, it is best not to have more than two injections per year as the cortisone may weaken the rotator cuff tendons and lead to tendon rupture.

If your condition does not improve with nonsurgical treatment, then surgery may be an option for you. Surgery may also be a better option if you have other associated shoulder problems, particularly those that are time urgent.

Surgery for subacromial bursitis is performed arthroscopically (keyhole); this allows your surgeon to assess the condition of other structures in the shoulder, such as the biceps tendon, rotator cuff, and acromioclavicular joint. The goal of surgery is to remove the inflamed bursa (subacromial decompression), smooth out the bone spur (acromioplasty) and create more space for the rotator cuff. The surgery involves a few small keyhole incisions and can be done as a day procedure or with an overnight stay (depending on what else needs to be addressed in the shoulder).

Medical diagram showing a close up of the shoulder joint and Arthroscopic Bone Bur that is used to removed Acromion bone spurs

Shoulder Function

If you are unable to undertake basic tasks or to look after yourself, unable to drive, unable to get dressed, or have difficulty with hygiene and toileting.

Shoulder Pain

Pain with activity and even at rest
Night pain, especially if it wakes you from sleep
Unable to sleep on your affected shoulder
Increasing requirements of pain relief tablets
Multiple failed cortisone injections
Not responding to physiotherapy


If it is limiting your ability to work
Especially if you are in a manual job requiring repeated overhead activity


If you are unable (even after a period of rest and activity modification)  to participate in your chosen leisure activity or sport and you wish to continue to do so

Preventing further shoulder damage

There are certain conditions (such as subacromial bursitis with high-grade partial rotator cuff tears) where it may be better to decompress your shoulder and repair your rotator cuff before tears become full-thickness, retracted, or irreparable.

Dr Pant will carefully analyse your MRI scan and determine if this is the case for you (especially in younger patients).

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