Key Points about Shoulder Replacement

  • Shoulder replacement surgery is a surgical procedure during which the damaged parts of the shoulder are removed and replaced with an artificial joint.
  • Shoulder replacement is typically performed on people who have injured their shoulders or who have a condition that causes severe pain, such as arthritis.
  • Shoulder replacement can be a good option for people who have not experienced relief from pain from non-surgical options. Recovery from shoulder replacement can take several months to a year.

Overview

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, there are approximately 53,000 shoulder replacements performed each year.

If you have a shoulder injury, such as a fracture or tear, or if you have severe pain caused by arthritis, your doctor may recommend shoulder replacement.

During shoulder replacement, an orthopedic surgeon will remove the damaged parts of the shoulder. Then, he or she will replace them with an artificial joint, called a prosthesis.

The types of shoulder replacement include:

  • Total joint replacement includes replacing both the ball (humeral head) and socket (glenoid) parts of the shoulder. This is the most common type of shoulder replacement procedure.
  • Shoulder hemiarthroplasty includes replacing only the ball (humeral head) in the shoulder.
  • Reverse total shoulder replacement includes replacing both the ball and socket, but the ball and socket are switched. This procedure may be recommended for people who have previously had a failed shoulder replacement or who have tearing in the rotator cuff.

Shoulder replacement surgery candidates

Your health care team will help you decide if shoulder replacement is the best choice for you. Candidates for shoulder replacement:

  • Have not experienced significant relief from non-surgical options, such as injections, physical therapy, or medications
  • Are in significant pain, even while at rest
  • Are limited in performing activities of daily living due to loss of function and range of motion

Shoulder replacement surgery risks

There are risks associated with all surgeries. The risks of shoulder replacement include:

  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Issues with the prosthetic
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness at the surgical site
  • Blood clots

Shoulder replacement surgery preparation

Your health care team will give you instructions to prepare for shoulder replacement. They may include:

  • Having bloodwork several days prior to check for infection, risk of blood clots, and organ function, among other things
  • Stopping the use of certain medications
  • Quitting smoking
  • No eating or drinking past a certain time the day before surgery
  • Gathering everything you will need post-surgery, including ice packs, a sling, and medication
  • Make simple modifications to your home to make recovery easier, such as moving essential items to make them easier to reach
  • Plan to have someone help you at home during recovery. If that is not an option, consider a rehabilitation facility

Shoulder replacement surgery expectations

Shoulder replacement is considered major surgery. You will be put under general anesthesia during the procedure. While every surgery varies, shoulder replacement typically takes approximately two hours. You may be in some pain when you awake after the procedure. Your health care team will help you control your pain. You will likely stay in the hospital for a few days while you begin your rehabilitation.

After shoulder replacement surgery

Recovery from shoulder replacement varies from person to person. In general, full recovery after shoulder replacement can take up to a year. Your rehabilitation should include a progressive program of physical therapy to address range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Immediately after shoulder replacement surgery, you will have a period of time -- often for up to a month -- when you will wear a sling of the affected arm and shoulder. If there are no complications after approximately three months, you may be able to proceed with regular daily activities and a light physical activity program. Patients generally return to full activities between nine and 12 months and experience relief from pain.