What is Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Although it is less common than other joint replacement surgeries, shoulder replacement is very successful in relieving joint pain and restoring range of motion. In shoulder replacement surgery, the worn, damaged parts of the shoulder are removed and replaced with artificial components, known as a prosthesis.

The treatment options are either replacement of just the head of the humerus bone (ball), or replacement of both the ball and the socket (glenoid). Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the leading cause of shoulder joint replacement. The cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones softens and wears away. When the bones begin to rub together the pain can become intolerable. Shoulder replacement surgery is recommended when nonsurgical treatment options are no longer helpful.

When Should You Be Evaluated for Shoulder Surgery?

If you are seeing or have been referred to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation, you are probably already considering options that make the activities of daily living easier. VAO begins with a conservative treatment approach to alleviating your pain and restoring your range of motion and strength. There are many nonsurgical treatments that can be offered before surgery is recommended to include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Activity modification
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the joint
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and lessen pain

When these nonsurgical treatment options are no longer helpful, your doctor will likely recommend shoulder replacement. Patients who benefit the most from shoulder replacement surgery often have:

  • Severe shoulder pain that interferes with everyday activities, such as reaching into a cabinet, dressing, and washing.
  • Loss of motion and/or weakness in the shoulder.
  • Moderate to severe pain while resting. This pain may be severe enough to prevent a good night’s sleep.
  • Failure to improve with other treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, or physical therapy.

What to Expect After Surgery

After surgery, it is normal to feel pain and discomfort. Your pain will be managed in the hospital by your doctor and the nursing staff. Typically, patients stay in the hospital overnight or up to three days depending on your overall health. Pain management is critical to your recovery, as reduced pain levels encourage faster recovery and healing.

The shoulder will need to be stabilized in a sling for 2-4 weeks after surgery. A well-planned rehabilitation program is vital to the success of a shoulder replacement. Gentle physical therapy will begin soon after your operation. You will learn exercises to be performed at home that will improve your flexibility and strengthen your shoulder.

As you begin to heal, the physical therapy regimen will become more challenging allowing you to fully regain the movement and strength in your new joint. You will be back to enjoying life and performing daily activities free of pain within 3-4 months of surgery.