The shoulder joint is one of the largest – and most important – in the body. As we get older, almost everyone will experience some type of shoulder issue at one time or another. Truth be told, shoulders are one of the most commonly injured joints in the body. While many of these issues are minor and will heal on their own, this is not always the case. If you are suffering from shoulder pain due to arthritis, for example, you may need a shoulder replacement.
The shoulder joint is a complex network that provides us with stability and range of motion. Most of us don’t think about the type of stress we put on the shoulder joint. We use our shoulders without even thinking about the repetitive motion and potential for injuries. Because the shoulder is the only joint that is on a moveable platform (the shoulder plate), injuries are common.
While many things can result in pain or a shoulder injury one of the most common reasons for a shoulder replacement is arthritis. When it comes to shoulder arthritis, the cartilage that is supposed to cover the ball and socket wears away. The result is very painful bone-on-bone contact that creates stiffness, difficulty sleeping, and the inability to perform regular daily activities. Shoulder arthritis usually happens as a result of regular wear and tear, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or rotator cuff injuries.
What is Shoulder Replacement Surgery?
When the bones in the shoulder rub together or become damaged or broken, they may need to be replaced with metal or plastic implants. The aim of a total shoulder replacement is to restore motion and reduce any pain associated with the bone-on-bone contact. During surgery, the ball of the shoulder joint will be replaced with a sphere made from metal. The socket part of the shoulder joint is then replaced with a disk that has a cupped surface, allowing the new ball joint to sit perfectly. These two parts replace the damaged cartilage, recreating the natural shoulder joint all at once.
What to Expect from Shoulder Replacement Surgery
A shoulder replacement typically takes about three hours, give or take. Some of the conditions that a shoulder replacement can help include:
- Osteoarthritis – A common type of arthritis among older people.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – This type of arthritis happens when the immune system attacks the joints, resulting in pain and inflammation.
- Avascular necrosis – When there is a loss of blood to a specific bone or joint (such as the shoulder joint) it can lead to pain and discomfort.
- Broken shoulder.
- Rotator cuff
The most successful shoulder replacements occur in patients who are experiencing the following:
- Loss of motion or weakness in the shoulder
- Chronic pain
- Pain while resting or sleeping
- Lack of improvement with alternative therapy, such as medication, injections, or physical therapy
Shoulder Surgery Recovery
Shoulder replacement surgery is a major procedure that will require a lot of rest and patience. In the hours, days, and weeks following the operation, you may need to take oral medications to ease the discomfort. It is also recommended that shoulder replacement patients start rehabilitation as soon as possible. Physical therapy and other types of rehab have proven to be extremely beneficial for surgery patients, working to reduce the recovery period and get patients back on their feet as soon as possible.
Once released from the hospital, your arm will need to remain in a sling for two to four weeks. Most people experience less arm function for about a month. It is imperative you follow your doctor’s post-operative care instructions, never lifting objects that weigh more than a pound and avoiding any pushing or pulling.
Risks and Complications of Shoulder Replacement Surgery
There are very few risks and complications associated with shoulder replacement surgery. However, as with any surgery, there are some potential risk factors:
- Nerve or artery damage
- The replacement may come loose over time, requiring additional surgery
Shoulder Replacement Surgery Alternatives
If your doctor has suggested shoulder replacement surgery, there’s a good chance all other options have been exhausted. If you have tried physical therapy, medications, injections, or any of the other alternative forms of treatment, only to still be in pain and discomfort, it may be time for surgery. Shoulder replacements are quite common and one of the best options for those suffering from arthritis.
Shoulder replacement surgery is safe and effective, giving countless patients the opportunity to find relief from rotator cuff injuries, arthritis, or many other problems that affect the shoulder. If you are living with pain, it may be time to consider a shoulder replacement.