What Is a Shoulder Joint Replacement?

The shoulder is a very large ball-and-socket joint, allowing for the motion and rotation of the arm in nearly every direction. Severe damage of the bone and soft tissues, like the rotator cuff, can limit or disable motion in the shoulder joint.

In shoulder arthroplasty, or total shoulder replacement surgery, the damaged bone and cartilage of the shoulder are removed and replaced with artificial components.

Total shoulder replacement is performed to relieve pain as well as to restore and maintain the function of the shoulder and arm. 

Who Is a Good Candidate for Shoulder Joint Replacement?

Some conditions, such as rotator cuff arthropathy, severe shoulder fractures, and shoulder arthritis, or glenohumeral arthritis, can cause grinding or bone-on-bone sensations and debilitating pain. Those living with this damage and chronic pain are ideal candidates for replacement.

Another procedure, called reverse shoulder replacement, is also available for patients who have previously had a replacement surgery that needs to be revised or those who have completely torn rotator cuffs or serious weakness and instability in and around the joint.

Although some people may need shoulder replacement after an injury, more often, the procedure is performed on people who are dealing with the effects of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

What to Expect During Your Appointment

Your orthopedic surgeon will ask you questions about your general health as well as your shoulder pain and how it is impacting your ability to function. They will also perform a physical exam to assess the strength, range of motion, and stability of your shoulder. To better understand the location and the extent of the damage, you will have X-rays taken of your shoulder. Depending on your situation, your orthopedic surgeon may also take blood tests or perform an MRI.

Treatment depends on the extent and location of your shoulder damage. You may only need the head of your humerus bone (ball) replaced or both the humerus and the glenoid (socket).

Before recommending shoulder replacement surgery, your orthopedic surgeon may suggest other treatment options, such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, or physical therapy. If nonsurgical treatments are not helpful or no longer relieve your pain, total shoulder replacement could be a good option for you.

If you have arthritis of the shoulder joint, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, and your shoulder pain is interfering with your daily life, you may be a good candidate for shoulder replacement surgery. If you have posttraumatic arthritis due to a chronic rotator cuff tear injury, such as rotator cuff arthropathy, or another injury you may also benefit from shoulder arthroplasty. 

What to Expect During Your Surgery

The procedure takes place in a hospital. After you are given general anesthesia, your orthopedic surgeon will make an incision between two muscles on the front of your shoulder—the deltoid and the pectoralis major. Next, they will replace both sides of your joint, the humeral head and the glenoid. The ball, or humeral component, is metal and is attached to a stem that’s secured inside the upper humeral canal. The socket, or glenoid component, is made from plastic and is secured into the scapula, or shoulder blade.

After surgery, you will be moved to another room, where you will remain for several hours while you recover from your anesthesia. When you wake up, you will be wearing a sling. You should carefully follow your orthopedic surgeon’s instructions regarding when you can remove the sling and move your elbow, wrist, and fingers. 

Your Recovery and Living With Your New Shoulder

Your orthopedic surgeon will provide you with specific instructions about what you can and cannot do while your shoulder is healing. You will need to keep the sling on for several weeks after surgery and do exercises and stretching activities consistently, at either home or working with a physical therapist, to help your shoulder heal properly. 

Be sure to attend all follow-up appointments. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection or blood clots and other possible complications. You should avoid lifting heavy weights overhead with the weight behind your head, as this risks reinjuring your shoulder or compromising the artificial joint. 

You should seek out an experienced orthopedic surgeon to perform your shoulder replacement surgery. This clinician should not only be skilled at performing the surgery but also have the ability to accurately assess the extent of the damage prior to surgery. 

Exceptional Care at University Orthopedic Surgeons

Our years of experience and advanced training devoted to the care of orthopedic issues, including those of the shoulder, make us who we are, but our compassionate care of our patients is what makes us dedicated to you. Our shoulder replacement specialists at University Orthopedic Surgeons, Dr. George Baddour, Dr. Philip McDowell, and Dr. Joshua Moss, are unparalleled experts in accurately diagnosing and effectively treating severe shoulder injuries and conditions in a broad range of patients, and they continuously strive to exceed our patients' expectations in the delivery of care.

To consult with a University Orthopedic Surgeons shoulder replacement surgeon, please request an appointment online or call (865) 546-2663 for our UT Medical Center and Sevierville offices or (865) 218-9300 for our West Knoxville office.