We studied the effect of comorbidities on function of the shoulder and health status in a group of eighty-five consecutive patients who had glenohumeral degenerative joint disease of sufficient severity to meet one surgeon's criteria for the performance of shoulder arthroplasty. A questionnaire was used to identify the comorbidities, such as other diseases, social factors, or a work-related injury, for each patient.The number of functions on the Simple Shoulder Test that the patient could perform had a significant negative correlation with the number of comorbidities (r = -0.32, intercept = 4.6 per cent, slope = -0.6, and p = 0.0031). Each parameter on the Short Form-36 (except for physical role function) had a significant negative correlation with the number of comorbidities (p < 0.05). This negative relationship was strongest for general health perception (r = -0.42) and vitality (r = -0.35).We concluded that the number of comorbidities has a quantitative effect on function of the shoulder. In the evaluation of the functional status of patients and the effectiveness of treatment, the effects of comorbidity must be controlled. The results of the present study demonstrate that the scores on the Short Form-36 are quantitatively related to the number of comorbidities. The six parameters that are unrelated to function of the shoulder (physical function, social function, emotional role function, mental health, vitality, and general health perception) may provide a practical way to integrate the effects of all potential comorbidities on individual patients. Future clinical research will be strengthened by efforts to measure the impact of comorbidities and by strategies to control for their effects.