Should You Get Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Should You Get Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Are you considering shoulder replacement surgery?  If you are experiencing chronic pain or other symptoms that are prohibiting you from living an active lifestyle, shoulder replacement surgery may be a procedure that will help you reclaim a pain-free life.

But, as with any surgery, educating yourself is a key component to deciding whether or not you should commit to having shoulder replacement surgery.  A shoulder replacement is done with the wear and tear arthritis has become end stage or bone on bone. The combination of severe arthritis and debilitating pain are the main reasons people would choose a replacement.

To help you learn more about whether shoulder replacement surgery is right for you, here are some frequent questions about the procedure that I'll take a little time to answer here today.

Hi Dr. Sterett, I'm wondering-- What symptoms or issues are indicators of needing shoulder surgery? 

Good question.  As I said, any major surgery should be carefully considered along with the consultation of a professional.  The goal of a full shoulder replacement surgery is to become pain free and live a more complete and enjoyable life. Shoulder replacement is a very predictable operation for pain relief, and may get you back participating in activities such as tennis or golf.  The main indication that should bring you to surgery is pain.

  • Severe shoulder pain which causes you issues with everyday activities. (Examples include reaching into the fridge for food, washing & dressing, eating, or other activities that typically should be performed easily and without pain.)
  • Pain while sleeping, resting, or lying down. If this pain is bad enough to prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, you are a good candidate for shoulder replacement surgery. 
  • Loss of passive motion in the shoulder, indicated by the fact that you can't get your arm up overhead or behind your back, even with assistance.
  • General weakness of the shoulder
  • No improvement in the condition when treating with other methods such as cortisone injections, physical therapy, or with the use of anti-inflammatories.

What does shoulder replacement surgery entail?

When a shoulder replacement is conducted, the humeral head (otherwise known as the "ball") of your shoulder joint will be replaced with an implant.  This implant is metal, with a smooth rounded metal head that acts as a stem.  The glenoid (or the "socket") can be covered with a rounded plastic cup which is smooth and specially crafted to fit perfectly with the head of the ball.  

After a successful surgery, the two components should work together to allow you a full range of motion and regain effective usage of your shoulder.

Hey Dr. Sterett, how active can I be after a shoulder replacement?

One of the BIG questions patients have before undergoing a shoulder replacement is exactly this.  Everyone expects to be pain free after the surgery (as they should after fully healing), but will there be a major lifestyle adjustment?  Will you be able to do things you couldn’t do before the surgery? 

I want to stress here that everyone's body is different, and it can be difficult to generalize when it comes to recovery times. That said, many people experience a full recovery within six months, depending on the physical therapy program and how stringently it is adhered to.  

Specifically, full range of motion is often achieved around the 3 month point, while maximum strength of the shoulder replacement can be achieved by the 6 month mark.  

As always, following the explicit advice of your surgeon is a must when it comes to achieving a full recovery.

What is the shoulder replacement device actually made of?

The shoulder replacement device is made of titanium and cobalt chrome on the humeral side. The glenoid side that comprises the implant is made of a biocompatible plastic which is called polyethylene.  Some people are interested to find out that the same materials are used in replacements for the hip and knee.

So how long will a shoulder replacement last?

Your lifestyle and physical condition definitely have a very strong influence on the length of time that the implant will last for.  Prosthetic joints can certainly allow you live a healthy and active lifestyle with a high level of mobility and a low level of pain for many years, but the truth is that your natural joints will always be stronger than a prosthetic. The vast majority of shoulder replacements will last for the rest of your life.

Remembering this fact, the short answer is that shoulder replacement surgery implants can last up to 15-20 years.  Again, your specific situation will differ from others (everyone's body is different), so it's a good conversation to have with a specialist.

I'm worried about possible complications due to having an implant...what are some possible problems?

Component failures and infections are the most common problems associated with shoulder implants.  However, it can be noted that shoulder replacements often require shorter hospital stay and result in fewer complications that surgeries such as hip and knee replacements. We can even do these procedures as outpatients in the right patient.


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