What to Know about Shoulder Replacement Surgery

By Alyssa Ball

Individuals who suffer from chronic shoulder pain could benefit from shoulder replacement surgery to help relieve pain and improve range of motion. However, total shoulder replacement surgery can be invasive and require you to undergo rehabilitation. There are also different types of shoulder replacement, which can affect recovery.

That’s why it’s important to understand what your shoulder replacement surgery would entail. In this post, we will provide a general outline of what to expect from shoulder replacement surgery for seniors. 

What is shoulder replacement surgery? 

The shoulder is actually made up of 4 different joints. But typically shoulder replacement refers to replacing the ball-and-socket joint, known as the scapulothoracic joint. This joint connects your arm to your chest. Seniors could receive a partial or total shoulder replacement to help with pain relief and range of motion.  

  • Anatomical total shoulder replacement: The ball and socket joints are removed and replaced with implants that resemble the natural shape of the bones. 
  • Reverse total shoulder replacement: The ball and socket joints are replaced, but the shapes are reversed. The ball is attached to the shoulder blade and the socket is attached to the upper arm bone. This type of shoulder replacement is typically used when the rotator cuff is severely damaged. 
  • Partial shoulder replacement: Only the ball of the joint is replaced.  

The type of surgery performed depends on pain, range of motion, and the condition of the surrounding cartilage and tissue. 

What conditions can be treated through surgery? 

Shoulder replacement surgery can be used to treat several different conditions, including the following. 

  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis caused by regular wear and tear over time. As we age, the cartilage in the shoulder joint can deteriorate, which causes bones to come in direct contact with one another. This friction makes the joint stiff or painful. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks healthy tissue in the body by mistake — including joints. It can eventually cause bone deterioration and joint deformity.  
  • Rotator cuff injury: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the ball and socket joint. Rotator cuff injuries can sometimes cause damage to the bone and cartilage in the shoulder.  
  • Bone fractures: Shoulder replacement surgery can help address bone fractures in the upper end of the humerus. 
  • Osteonecrosis: Osteonecrosis (also referred to as avascular necrosis) is a disease caused by reduced blood flow to the joints. Without proper blood flow, bones can break down more quickly than normal. 

Talk with your doctor to discover if shoulder replacement surgery is a viable treatment option for you. Usually, surgery is reserved for conditions that can no longer be managed by non-surgical options. 

RELATED CONTENT: 5 Natural Ways to Manage Arthritis 

How long does shoulder replacement surgery take? 

Shoulder replacement surgery takes about 3 hours to complete. However, a partial replacement may not take as long. Of course, the surgery center will require you to be there a few hours before the procedure. This gives you time to put on a surgical gown and allows staff to complete any needed tests or administer medications before your shoulder surgery. 

What are the risks and complications of a shoulder replacement? 

Every surgery comes with its share of complications. These can include: 

  • Shoulder dislocation 
  • Shoulder fracture 
  • Loose implant 
  • Rotator cuff damage 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Blood clots 
  • Infection 
  • Pain 

What is recovery from shoulder replacement surgery like? 

After your surgery, the shoulder will likely be immobilized with an arm sling. You may have an x-ray of your shoulder to ensure the implant is positioned properly. But you should be able to go home the same day of surgery unless there are other complications or you don’t have adequate support at home. 

Doctors typically encourage movement soon after surgery, including later the same day or the next day. Physical therapy will be part of your recovery process until you have regained strength, mobility, and control of your shoulder.  

You will be prescribed medications to help manage pain after surgery. You may also be asked to put ice on the affected area to help control swelling as your shoulder heals.  

RELATED CONTENT: Preparing to Return Home after In-Patient Rehab 

How long does it take to recover after shoulder replacement surgery? 

Generally, it takes 8 weeks for an individual to recover after shoulder replacement surgery. At 8 weeks after surgery, you should be able to perform most daily tasks comfortably. However, that doesn’t mean that you will be back to normal range of motion after that time. It can take several months before the shoulder is healed sufficiently to resume some activities, like strength exercises. 

Here’s a timeline of what you might expect during recovery. 

  • 1 week: Stitches are removed. 
  • 2–3 weeks: You can return to desk work. 
  • 6 weeks: You can perform light tasks with your affected arm and shoulder, including driving. 
  • 8 weeks: You can actively use the affected arm and shoulder. 
  • 3 months: You are fairly comfortable with the implant and have about half of your range of motion restored. 
  • 6 months: You may be pain free and have about 2/3 of your range of motion restored.  
  • 1 year: You should be pain free and have regained strength and range of motion. 

What can I to aid recovery? 

The most important thing you can do is to listen to your doctor! By following their instructions, you can help your shoulder heal properly. Attend your physical therapy sessions and do your exercises as prescribed.

You should also drink plenty of water and maintain a healthy diet. If you need assistance adhering to doctor’s orders or getting to your appointments after surgery, consider hiring a professional caregiver to help support you.  

RELATED CONTENT: 7 Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Senior Home Care 

Are there permanent limitations after shoulder replacement? 

Typically, individuals are able to significantly reduce or eliminate shoulder pain once the joint has healed. However, some may still experience some pain. You may also not achieve full range of motion of 180 degrees, but many individuals achieve 150 degrees.

Depending on your overall health and condition, your doctor may also suggest that you avoid repeatedly lifting anything greater than 25 pounds. They may also ask you to avoid certain motions that can cause the shoulder to dislocate — like putting a belt through the back loops or unhooking a bra in the back. 

If you or a loved one is preparing for shoulder surgery, know that Caring Senior Service is here to help. Our professional caregivers can assist you with tasks of daily living when you get home. Plus, our caregivers can take you to your physical therapy appointments and assist with your exercises at home. To learn more, reach out to your local Caring Senior Service.  

personalized care for a safe transition back home

Tags: Senior Health, Rehabilitation