Shoulder replacement or ‘arthroplasty’ is the most common and successful operation for arthritis. Similar to hip replacement and knee replacement it involves removing the arthritic joint surfaces and replacing them with a metal or plastic ‘prosthesis’ or implant.
The shoulder can suffer from several types of arthritis e.g. inflammatory arthritis, osteoarthritis and cuff tear arthritis. The type of arthritis you have will determine the type of replacement or prosthesis you have.
Shoulder replacement is a very effective operation, with a long track record of success, though, like all major surgery, there are risks such as infection, fracture and dislocation. Your surgeon will discuss the type of replacement and the relevant risks with you before deciding on any operation.
You will normally come into hospital on the day of your surgery. You will usually have any tests required e.g. blood tests, performed in the outpatients before your arrival. If you are a smoker, stopping at least 48 hours before you surgery is advisable for the anaesthetic. You should bring details of all your medications with you when you are admitted.
Shoulder replacement is an open operation involving an incision at the front of the shoulder. Usually it will involve a general anaesthetic, often with a regional nerve block (local anaesthetic) to numb the arm as well. The operation takes about two hours and you will usually need to stay in hospital for 2-3 nights following the operation.
You will start gentle physiotherapy immediately after surgery and you will need to wear an arm sling for between four and six weeks, during which time you will be unable to drive. There will usually be stitches in the wound which will be removed 10 days after the operation. Physiotherapy is extremely beneficial in the recovery period (6-8 weeks) but it can take up to six months for the full benefit of a joint replacement. Regular follow-up appointments will be arranged with your surgeon to obtain further x-rays and check on your progress.