Also called arthroplasty, shoulder replacement is a surgical procedure in which the damaged or diseased joint is removed and replaced by an artificial shoulder implant (prosthesis) that is designed to move like a normal, healthy joint.
This is a very personal decision that only you can make, with the help of an orthopedic surgeon’s evaluation of your pain and its effect on your daily life.
When other treatment options no longer provide relief, joint replacement may be recommended — not only to relieve pain but also to prevent the disability it can cause. For example, experiencing joint pain day after day without relief can lead to “staying off” the joint — which often weakens the muscles around it so it becomes even more difficult to move. Your orthopedic surgeon will tell you whether you might benefit from joint replacement and explain the reasons why it may, or may not, be right for you at this time.
Certain parts of your shoulder joint are removed and replaced with a plastic or metal device called a prosthesis, or artificial joint. The artificial shoulder joint can have either two or three parts, depending on the type of surgery required.
You’ll need routine blood tests, urinalysis, a physical examination, and, if you’re over 50 or your doctor thinks they’re advisable, an electrocardiogram (EKG) and chest X-ray as well. Your own doctor or the hospital where you’ll have the surgery may perform these preoperative tests and evaluations. You may also be asked to donate blood preoperatively or to have a designated donor — usually a family member or relative — do this. Your doctor or orthopedic surgeon will specify exactly which tests and evaluations you will need and when you should have them. He or she may also recommend that you take an iron supplement before your surgery, and you may be asked to stop taking certain medications — for example, aspirin and other medications that thin the blood. Your doctor or orthopedic surgeon will also specify how these and any other medication concerns apply to you. Finally, your doctor may advise you not to eat or drink after midnight on the day your surgery takes place.
Following joint replacement surgery, hospital stays vary depending on insurance coverage and individual medical status — a total of four days (including the day of the surgery) is typical. The surgery may take from two to three hours, and you’ll spend about the same amount of time in the recovery room.
On the first day after your surgery, you may be able to get out of bed and begin physical and occupational therapy, typically several brief sessions a day. Usually, a case manager is assigned to work with you as you move through your rehabilitation routines. When you’re ready for discharge, the decision will be made concerning whether you can best continue to recover at home or in another facility where you may receive specialized rehabilitative help. If you do go to another facility, the goal will be to return you to your home, able to move about with a safe level of independence, within three to five days.*
You shouldn’t be surprised if you feel a little shaky and uncertain for the first day or two after you’re discharged. But soon you will likely get a routine going and gain confidence in your new joint — the start of a new life with less pain. (As with any surgery, you’ll probably take pain medication for a few days while you are healing.) You’ll also be in touch with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon, as well as your case manager, so take advantage of opportunities to ask questions or discuss concerns as well as to report on your progress*
* Individual results vary.
This is a decision that only you and your doctor or orthopedic surgeon can make. However, there are some general guidelines that your doctor may give you:
When to resume driving a car, going to work, and/or participating in sports activities are all highly individualized decisions. Be sure to follow your doctor’s or orthopedic surgeon’s advice and recommendations.
When fully recovered, most people with artificial shoulders can return to work and normal daily activities without any problems. Keep in mind, however, that certain activities could affect how long your artificial shoulder will last and how well it will perform. A good rule of thumb is that your physical activities should not cause pain, including pain felt later. You should also not jar your joint or push it to its most extreme range of motion. If, for example, you are considering doing any of the following activities, you should discuss them first with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon: