What is shoulder replacement surgery?

Shoulder replacement, also known as arthroplasty, is a type of surgery that relieves pain and helps a joint work the way it should. This often includes replacing the entire damaged joint with an artificial one. While these surgeries are most common in the hips and knees, shoulder replacement surgery is often necessary, especially in the case of large rotator cuff tears. Your rotator cuff is a large group of strong tissues in your shoulder. They help you lift and use your arm. 

There are a few ways to replace the shoulder joint. They depend on the condition of the joint and which parts are damaged. One treatment option is to replace the head of the humerus (upper arm bone), which is the ball part of this ball and socket joint. The other option is to replace the head and the glenoid, which is the socket part of the joint.

Artificial joints are made from metal and strong plastic. They're designed to last for years. This surgery can reduce your pain and improve your range of motion.

What to expect from shoulder replacement surgery

Arthroplasty generally requires that you stay in the hospital for three to five days after the procedure. Doctors do this surgery under general anesthesia. That means you'll be completely asleep and won't feel any pain. The procedure itself lasts about two to three hours. This depends on how much of the joint the doctor needs to replace.

During the surgery, your doctor cuts into the skin over the shoulder joint to access the bones and other tissues. They remove the head of the humerus and attach a metal ball with a stem in its place. They may use cement to secure it in place. Your doctor may also remove the damaged glenoid and replaces it with a plastic prosthesis.

You'll have medication to manage your pain when you wake up. The day after surgery, you start physical therapy. It starts small with moving your fingers and wrists. The therapy gets more difficult as you heal. Your physical therapist can give you exercises to do at home. These help you improve your flexibility and regain strength in your shoulder. You'll have follow-up visits with your doctor in the weeks and months to come.

Common conditions requiring shoulder replacement surgery

Doctors recommend shoulder replacements for people who have been unsuccessful in reducing pain and limited movement through non-surgical treatments.

Common conditions include:

  • Fractures
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Avascular necrosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Damaged cartilage from old injuries

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