Everything You Need to Know About Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Published: 09:03 am, Mon June 10, 2024

How We Recommend Preparing For Joint Replacement Surgery
If simple activities like putting on a jacket or combing your hair cause sharp pain in your shoulder. You're not alone. Over 170,000 people undergo shoulder replacements annually in the United States. If chronic shoulder pain is affecting your daily life, shoulder replacement surgery might be a viable option. In this post, we’ll help you understand the procedure, from whether it’s the best option for you to what to expect during recovery. 

What Is Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

In shoulder replacement surgery, surgeons swap out the damaged parts of your shoulder joint for artificial implants. These implants, typically made of metal and plastic, restore function and ease pain in your shoulder. This surgery is a common treatment option for people with severe shoulder dysfunction caused by conditions like arthritis and rotator cuff tears. By replacing the damaged joint surfaces with smooth, artificial parts, shoulder replacement reduces pain and improves your ability to move your arm.

Types of Shoulder Replacement Surgery

The type of shoulder replacement surgery you need will depend on how bad the damage is and where it is in the joint. Here are the three main types of shoulder replacement surgeries there are:

Total Shoulder Replacement

This is the most extensive procedure. It replaces the shoulder joint's ball (humeral head) and the socket (glenoid) with artificial implants. If you've got a bad case of arthritis in your shoulder, your doctor might suggest a shoulder replacement surgery. This surgery is for people whose cartilage on both sides of the joint is pretty much gone, causing pain and a grinding feeling when they move their arm. Getting a total replacement is like getting a brand-new joint. It's the most complete way to fix a joint problem, and it can help you move around better and feel less pain.

Partial Shoulder Replacement (Hemiarthroplasty)

This procedure is less invasive compared to a total replacement. Surgeons replace only the damaged ball of the shoulder joint, called the humeral head, with a prosthetic ball. The surgeon preserves the natural socket, meaning reduced recovery time and strain on the surrounding muscles. Hemiarthroplasty might be suitable for younger, active patients with specific types of arthritis or fractures limited to the humeral head.

Reverse Shoulder Replacement

This involves a different strategy compared to traditional methods. In a reverse shoulder replacement, surgeons reverse the positions of the implants. The implant consists of a smooth, metal ball placed within the socket, while a plastic cup is securely attached to the upper arm bone. This design is great for patients with severe rotator cuff tears because the rotator cuff muscles can no longer effectively hold the shoulder joint. The reversed design allows the deltoid muscle, a larger and stronger muscle on the shoulder, to take over the critical role of stabilizing the joint. This approach is often best for patients with irreparable rotator cuff damage who experience significant pain and weakness despite non-surgical treatments. man touching painful shoulder

Who Is a Candidate for Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Shoulder replacement surgery is a significant procedure, and it's not for everyone. Here's how to know if you are a good candidate:

Severe Pain

If you experience persistent, chronic pain in your shoulder that significantly impacts your daily activities, medication and other conservative measures may no longer be sufficient. This pain might be constant or worsen with specific movements like reaching overhead or dressing.

Limited Mobility

When shoulder pain restricts your range of motion, making simple tasks like combing your hair or getting dressed difficult or impossible, it can significantly affect your quality of life. This limitation can be a strong indicator that you need surgery.

What Your Doctor Will Do Before Surgery

Before considering surgery, doctors will typically consider other treatment options first:

Physical Therapy

You could see improvements in your shoulder's strength, flexibility, and range of motion with a physical therapy program that's made just for you! This can sometimes ease pain and improve function without needing surgery.


Medications like pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, or cortisone injections can help manage pain and inflammation in the joint. However, if these medications fail to provide lasting pain relief and restore function, your doctor may recommend shoulder replacement surgery.

The Shoulder Replacement Procedure

Shoulder replacement surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia, meaning you'll be completely unconscious and feel no pain during the procedure. The surgery itself generally takes around 3 hours. Here's a step-by-step procedure for shoulder replacement surgery:
  • The surgeon will make an incision around the shoulder joint to access the damaged area.
  • Once the joint is visible, the surgeon will carefully remove the damaged portions of bone, including the ball (humeral head) and, sometimes, the socket (glenoid), depending on the type of replacement you need.
  • The surgeon will then carefully position the artificial implants, typically made of metal and plastic, into the prepared bone surfaces. Engineers design these implants to replicate a healthy shoulder joint's smooth, gliding movement.
  • After implant placement, the surgeon will meticulously close the surgical incision with sutures or stitches.

Benefits of Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Shoulder replacement surgery offers many benefits if you are struggling with severe shoulder dysfunction and pain. These benefits include:

Pain Relief

The primary benefit for many patients is significant pain reduction. The surgery can ease chronic pain by replacing damaged and worn-out joint surfaces, significantly improving daily life.

Improved Range of Motion

Shoulder stiffness is a common symptom of shoulder problems. Surgery can help restore a wider range of motion in your shoulder joint, allowing you to raise your arm higher, reach behind your back more comfortably, and perform daily activities more easily.

Enhanced Function

Regaining a wider range of motion and improved strength significantly boosts your ability to perform daily tasks without pain or limitations. This can include simple activities like dressing, combing your hair, or reaching for objects on shelves to more strenuous activities like gardening or playing sports (depending on your situation).

Increased Strength and Stability

Physical therapy after surgery will focus on rebuilding muscle strength and stability around the shoulder joint. This improved muscular support can significantly increase your ability to use your shoulder for various activities.

Improved Quality of Life

By reducing pain, restoring function, and allowing you to regain control over your daily activities, the surgery can empower you to participate in life to a greater extent and enjoy activities you might have previously avoided due to pain. Man with shoulder pain and doctor giving massage care and physical therapy

The Importance of Physical Therapy in Shoulder Replacement

Physical therapy plays a vital role in your recovery journey after a shoulder replacement surgery. Here's why: Improved Range of Motion: Following surgery, your shoulder will likely feel stiff, and movement will be limited. Consistent physical therapy exercises will help you regain the ability to raise your arm, reach behind your back, and perform daily activities. Regaining Strength: The muscles surrounding your shoulder joint will be weakened due to the surgery and potentially from pre-existing conditions. Physical therapy exercises will target these muscles, helping them regain strength and stability, which will, in turn, help to support the newly replaced joint. Reduced Pain and Stiffness: Regular physical therapy exercises can help prevent stiffness and scar tissue formation, both of which can cause to pain and discomfort. Improved Function: The whole point of recovery is to get your shoulder back to working at its best. Physical therapy helps you relearn how to use your shoulder the right way for everyday activities, so you can get back to your normal life more easily. Following your physical therapist's guidance and diligently performing your prescribed exercises will speed up your recovery and ensure the long-term success of your shoulder replacement surgery.

Risks and Complications of Shoulder Replacement Surgery

While shoulder replacement surgery is a successful procedure for many, it's important to be aware of potential risks and complications. These include:
  • Infection: As with any surgery, there's a risk of infection at the surgical site. This can be serious and require additional treatment with antibiotics.
  • Blood Clots: Blood clots can form in the legs or deep within the veins after surgery. If left untreated, a blood clot can dislodge and travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), which can be life-threatening.
  • Other Potential Complications: While less common, other potential complications include nerve damage, implant loosening or wearing over time, and continuous pain or stiffness in the shoulder.
It's important to discuss these risks and any concerns you have with your doctor before undergoing shoulder replacement surgery. They can provide a more personalized assessment of risks and benefits.

Don't Let Shoulder Pain Hold You Back

At Lancaster Orthopedic Group, our expert physicians and therapists can assess your condition and work with you to create the perfect treatment plan, whether it is Shoulder Replacement surgery or physical therapy. Call us at 717-560-4200 to book an appointment.

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