Shoulder Replacement Surgery: Indications, Procedure, and Recovery

Shoulder pain can be debilitating, affecting not only your daily activities but also your overall quality of life. When conventional treatment approaches such as rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections fall short in offering much-needed relief, shoulder replacement surgery may be recommended by an orthopaedic specialist to alleviate the persistent pain and restore optimal function of the affected joint. 

For those considering shoulder replacement surgery, this guide offers insights into indications, procedures, and outcomes, aiding informed decision-making.

1. Indications for Shoulder Replacement

When it comes to orthopaedic interventions, shoulder replacement surgery is often the last resort for individuals grappling with persistent shoulder pain and compromised joint function. This procedure is typically suggested by a shoulder specialist to individuals dealing with:

  • Severe Arthritis – Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can erode the cartilage in the shoulder joint, leading to excruciating pain and limited mobility. Shoulder replacement offers respite by replacing deteriorated joint surfaces with artificial components.
  • Rotator Cuff Tear Arthropathy – This condition arises when a long-standing rotator cuff tear causes arthritis to develop within the shoulder joint. When conservative measures no longer provide relief, a shoulder replacement can help restore function and reduce pain.
  • Unmanageable Fractures – In some cases, complex fractures of the shoulder joint may not respond well to traditional fracture treatments. Shoulder replacement might be the only viable option to regain mobility and ease discomfort.

2. Surgical Procedure

Shoulder replacement surgery involves a meticulous process that aims to replace damaged components of the shoulder joint with prosthetic implants. The procedure can be categorised into three main types:

  • Total Shoulder Replacement – In this procedure, both the ball and socket of the shoulder joint are replaced with prosthetic components. It is the most common type of shoulder replacement and is suitable for patients with arthritis or irreparable fractures.
  • Partial Shoulder Replacement –  Also known as hemiarthroplasty, this surgery involves replacing only the ball of the shoulder joint. It is often considered for patients with intact or repairable rotator cuff tendons.
  • Reverse Shoulder Replacement – This innovative approach is used when the rotator cuff muscles are severely damaged. The positions of the ball and socket components are reversed, allowing alternative muscles to control shoulder movement.

With the advancement of technology, the surgical techniques for these procedures have advanced significantly, with minimally invasive approaches becoming more popular. Professional sports doctors or surgeons make smaller incisions, leading to reduced scarring and quicker recovery times.

3. Recovery Process

The road to recovery after shoulder replacement surgery requires commitment, patience, and a well-structured rehabilitation plan. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Post-Operative Care – After the surgery, you’ll spend a short time in the hospital for monitoring. Pain management techniques will be employed to ensure your comfort.
  • Physical Therapy – Physical therapists play a crucial role in your recovery as they will guide you through exercises designed to improve shoulder strength, flexibility, and range of motion. These exercises gradually progress as your healing gets better. 
  • Home Exercises – Continuing your prescribed exercises at home is essential. Consistency is key to regaining full shoulder function.
  • Gradual Resumption of Activities – As your shoulder heals, you’ll gradually reintegrate daily activities and light tasks. Your surgeon and physical therapist will provide guidance on when it’s safe to resume specific actions.

4. Expected Outcomes and Risks

The ultimate goal of shoulder replacement surgery is to mitigate pain and enhance your ability to engage in daily activities. Most patients experience significant improvement in pain levels and joint function, allowing them to enjoy a better quality of life.

However, like any surgical procedure, shoulder replacement carries certain risks, including infection, blood clots, nerve damage, and prosthesis-related complications. Your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss these risks with you and take measures to minimise them.

In the pursuit of relief from shoulder pain and the restoration of optimal joint function, one can significantly improve their quality of life through shoulder replacement surgery. Our team of Dr Poh Seng Yew, an orthopaedic specialist at the Medical Advanced Orthopaedic and Sports Centre, is here to tailor your treatment according to your unique needs. Contact us today to know more!