Glenohumeral osteoarthritis often results in inferior humeral osteophytes. Anatomic studies suggest that the axillary neurovascular bundle is in close proximity to the glenohumeral capsule. We therefore hypothesize that an inferior humeral osteophyte of sufficient magnitude could encroach on the axillary nerve and result in measurable fatty infiltration of the teres minor muscle.

Preoperative magnetic resonance imaging studies of 91 consecutive arthritic shoulders were retrospectively reviewed. Two cohorts were established based on the presence of a humeral osteophyte. The distances from the axillary neurovascular bundle to various osseous structures were measured using calibrated software. Objective quantitative measurements of the degree of fatty infiltration of the teres minor muscles were obtained with image analysis software. Results were compared between cohorts.

The distance between the inferior humerus and axillary neurovascular bundle was inversely correlated to the size of the inferior humeral osteophyte (ρ = -0.631, P < .001). Fatty infiltration of the teres minor was greater when an inferior osteophyte was present (11.9%) than when an osteophyte was not present (4.4%) (P = .004). A statistically significant correlation between the size of the humeral head spur and quantity of fat in the teres minor muscle belly (ρ = 0.297, P = .005) was identified.

These data are consistent with our hypothesis that the axillary nerve may be entrapped by the inferior humeral osteophyte often presenting with glenohumeral osteoarthritis. Entrapment may affect axillary nerve function and lead to changes in the teres minor muscle. Axillary neuropathy from an inferior humeral osteophyte may represent a contributing and treatable cause of pain in patients with glenohumeral osteoarthritis.