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Total shoulder replacement

4-minute read

This page will give you information about a total shoulder replacement. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a group of conditions that cause damage to one or more joints.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, where there is gradual wear and tear of a joint.

Some other types of arthritis are associated with inflammation of the joints that can eventually lead to severe joint damage.

Arthritis eventually wears away the normal cartilage covering the surface of the joint and the bone underneath becomes damaged. This causes pain and stiffness in the joint, which can interfere with normal activities.

What are the benefits of surgery?

You should get less pain and be able to move your arm more easily.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can help control the pain of arthritis.

A steroid injection into your shoulder joint can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness for several months.

All these measures become less effective if your arthritis gets worse and this is when your surgeon may recommend a shoulder replacement.

What does the operation involve?

Various anaesthetic techniques are possible.

The operation usually takes 1 to 2 hours.

Your surgeon will make a cut on the front of your shoulder and remove the damaged ball (head of the humerus). They will examine the socket which lies on your shoulder blade. They will replace the ball and sometimes also the socket. The new ball is made of metal and the socket is usually made of plastic.

Your shoulder replacement is fixed into the bone using a special coating on your arm side of your shoulder joint.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • unsightly scarring of your skin
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection
  • heart attack
  • stroke
Illustration of a total shoulder replacement.
A total shoulder replacement.

Specific complications of this operation

  • damage to nerves around your shoulder
  • infection
  • severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your arm and hand
  • loosening
  • rotator-cuff tears
  • dislocation of your shoulder replacement
  • stiff shoulder

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after 2 to 3 days.

You will need to keep your arm in a sling for up to 2 weeks to keep the tension away from your shoulder joint.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a good recovery, have less pain, and can move about better.

An artificial shoulder never feels quite the same as a normal shoulder and it is important to look after it in the long term.

A shoulder replacement can wear out with time.

Summary

Arthritis of your shoulder can cause severe pain, stiffness and disability. A shoulder replacement should reduce your pain and help you to move your shoulder more easily.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2021


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