Should I Get Surgery for Shoulder Arthritis?
posted by Mitchell Larsen, MD | August 29, 2018
If you have shoulder arthritis, do you need to have surgery? Ultimately, the decision is up to you. The surgical procedures used to treat osteoarthritis are elective procedures, which means that you choose whether you want to go under the knife. While your doctor may recommend surgery for your shoulder arthritis, s/he cannot force you to have it.
In fact, in cases where the arthritis is not yet advanced, your doctor may advise against surgery. For example, the artificial components used in joint replacements only last for a certain amount of time. So if your arthritis is not advanced and you have not yet reached a certain age, your doctor may advise you to hold off. While osteoarthritis causes irreversible damage to your joints, there are non-surgical treatment options that can slow down its degenerative effects. Most people decide to have surgery when the pain becomes so bad that they can no longer function. In some patients, non-surgical treatment options are so successful that they are able to postpone surgery indefinitely.
Non-surgical treatment options include medications and supplements, activity modification, injections, icing or heating the affected joint(s) and physical therapy.
Controlling symptoms of arthritis through non-surgical methods can help you avoid a long recovery process and possible complications that can accompany surgery. Orthopedic procedures to correct arthritis are common, and for the most part they are very safe, but with any surgical procedure there is a risk of complications, such as infection or hardware failure, that usually require further treatment and perhaps even additional surgeries.
If your doctor feels that your arthritis is severe enough that you are heading down the road toward shoulder replacement surgery, it is in your interest to try to slow the damage and delay joint replacement as long as possible. This is because the hardware (or prosthesis) used in shoulder replacement surgery has a limited lifespan. Over time, it will eventually wear out, and when that happens, you will need to have another shoulder prosthesis implanted in a procedure called a revision surgery. For this reason, orthopedic surgeons often will not perform replacement surgery at all if the patient has not reached a certain age, except in cases of severe arthritic degeneration, in the hopes that the prosthesis will outlive the patient.
The decision to have surgery is up to you, but there are risks involved either way. While conservative treatment options for arthritis can be effective in some patients, every case is different and non-surgical treatments are not infallible. You may find that, after a lengthy course of conservative treatment, your arthritis pain is still not improved, and in the meantime, your quality of life may suffer. Some patients opt to treat their arthritis definitively with surgery rather than trying conservative measures.
Your family doctor or an orthopedic surgeon will be able to determine if surgery is a reasonable treatment option for your shoulder arthritis. Once a physician decides that you are a viable surgery candidate, you can decide how to proceed. Your doctor will be happy to answer any questions about surgery that you may have.
“Arthritis of the Shoulder.” OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/arthritis-of-the-shoulder
“Shoulder Osteoarthritis Treatment.” Ana Bracilovic, MD, Veritas Health. https://www.arthritis-health.com/types/osteoarthritis/shoulder-osteoarthritis-treatment
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.
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