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Shoulder replacement (total)

Shoulder replacement - total

Why do I need a shoulder replacement?

If you have severe pain, stiffness and disability, a shoulder replacement should reduce your pain and help you to move your shoulder more easily.

What are the benefits of surgery?

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

Are there any alternatives to a total shoulder replacement?

  • Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can help control the pain.
  • Regular moderate exercise can help to reduce stiffness in your arthritic shoulder. 
  • A steroid injection into the shoulder joint can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness.
  • All of these measures become less effective as your arthritis gets worse.

What does the operation involve?

The operation usually takes an hour to 90 minutes. A variety of anaesthetic techniques are possible. 

Your surgeon will make a cut on the front of your shoulder and remove the damaged ball (head of the humerus). 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 (see figure 1).

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

What complications can happen?

Complications of anaesthesia
Your anaesthetist will be able to discuss with you the possible complications of having an anaesthetic.

General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications

  • Damage to nerves around your shoulder
  • Infection
  • Loosening
  • Rotator-cuff tears
  • Dislocation
  • Stiff shoulder

How soon will I recover?

  • You should be able to go home after two to three days.
  • You will need to keep your arm in a sling 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, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
  • Most people make a good recovery, have less pain and can move about better. It is important to follow the advice the physiotherapist gives you about exercises to strengthen your shoulder muscles.
  • 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. 


Author: Prof. Lennard Funk MSc FRCS (Tr. & Orth.)
Illustrations: Medical Illustration Copyright ©

Copyright © 2017 EIDO Healthcare Limited - The operation and treatment information on this webpage is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Horder Healthcare.

The intellectual property rights to the information belong exclusively to EIDO Healthcare Limited. You may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information other than for your personal, non-commercial use. The information should not replace any advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

Issued June 2017 | Expires end of May 2018

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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.

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.

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