Shoulder replacement has become the fastest growing joint replacement surgeries in the U.S. Like its more well-known counterparts (knee and hip replacement), it’s proven to be a safe and effective surgery for treating pain and deterioration caused by age-related wear and tear, different forms of arthritis and shoulder fractures. Shoulder replacement surgery isn’t new. In fact, it was first performed in the ‘50s to treat severe shoulder fractures. More recently, it has gained popularity for its success in treating other painful conditions, including severe rotator injuries.
While shoulder replacement should never be your first line of defense for pain, it’s a viable choice for those who have tried nonsurgical treatment options like medications, therapy and steroid injections. Currently, shoulder replacement is available to treat the following conditions:
- This type of arthritis is more common in people over age 50. As the cartilage that cushions the bones wear away from everyday wear and tear, the bones eventually rub together (known as bone-on-bone) causing pain, stiffness and limited mobility in the shoulder joint.
- Chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. These conditions cause damage, pain, stiffness and loss of cartilage over time.
- The shoulder is comprised of three bones—the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle). When one of these bones is shattered it can be hard to make all the pieces fit back together and ensure the blood supply isn’t disrupted which can lead to necrosis or bone death.
- Muscle tears. The muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint (called the rotator cuff) help to provide stability and support. When one of these becomes torn it can lead to pain and degenerative arthritis over time.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint which means the rounded surface of one bone moves within the depression of another bone. This allows for greater flexibility and freedom of movement. During shoulder replacement surgery, the surgeon removes the damaged parts of the shoulder and replaces them with artificial parts. The treatment options are either partial replacement where only the head (or ball) of the upper arm bone is replaced or total replacement of both the ball and the socket (shallow depression on a bone into which another bone fits).
A reverse shoulder replacement is also an option for those with rotator cuff tears who have developed arthritis. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place. In reverse shoulder replacement, the deltoid muscle compensates for the damaged rotator cuff muscles and tendons and helps control the arm through range of motion.
Who can benefit from surgery?
There are a variety of reasons your doctor may recommend shoulder replacement surgery, but people who make the best candidates are those with:
- Pain that interferes with their ability to function and perform everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, dressing, showering and driving. In some instances, the shoulder may even be painful when resting or sleeping.
- Reduced range motion and/or weakness.
- Pain that no longer responds to anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections or physical therapy.
Improving pain and quality of life
The best way to determine if you’re a candidate for shoulder replacement is to see a qualified surgeon who can perform a full medical evaluation. This will include reviewing your medical history, a general assessment of your health, X-rays to assess the extent of damage to the shoulder, and other tests to determine the condition of soft tissues.
If you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to one of the board-certified orthopedic surgeons at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.