How will I know if I need shoulder replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgeries are becoming more common with each passing year. While knee and hip replacements remain the most common procedures, shoulder replacement surgery is quickly catching up.

Performed when non-surgical treatments fail, shoulder replacement surgery is largely used to eliminate pain. However, it can also be required in order to regain full mobility of the shoulder. So how can you tell if you need shoulder replacement surgery?

When might shoulder replacement surgery be required?

The main sign you may need shoulder replacement surgery is prolonged pain around the shoulder joint. Of course, pain in the shoulder can be caused by a wide range of conditions and not all of them will require surgery. Therefore, it is vital you receive a proper diagnosis to determine the root cause.

Shoulder replacement surgery is typically required if:

  • The shoulder is fractured — If you’ve suffered a significant injury that has resulted in a shoulder fracture, it is possible the bone may be too damaged to repair. Either a full or a partial replacement may be recommended, dependent upon how healthy the socket is.
  • You have arthritis of the joint — If you’re over 50 and experiencing a lot of stiffness as well as pain in the joint, it’s likely you’ve developed arthritis of the shoulder. Anti-inflammatory medication is usually prescribed as the first course of action. However, if this, along with other non-surgical treatments don’t work, a replacement of the shoulder is worth considering.
  • There is a rotator cuff tear — The upper part of the arm bone has four different muscles wrapped around it. Injury to the shoulder can cause any of these muscles to tear, causing severe pain and mobility issues. The rotator cuff tear itself can be repaired without shoulder replacement; however, if left untreated it can develop into arthritis.

These are the main conditions which can lead to shoulder replacement surgery. A consultant orthopaedic surgeon that specialising in treating the shoulder will be able to diagnose the problem and identify the best course of treatment. Replacement surgery is provided as a last resort.

Identifying the problem

While it is essential to get yourself assessed by a shoulder specialist as soon as possible, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you may need shoulder replacement surgery.

  1. Consider the level of pain in the shoulder. Is it consistent and does it prevent you from carrying out normal, everyday activities? Everybody has a different pain threshold, but shoulder replacement surgery is most commonly used to combat severe pain. That is, the pain will constantly be there. If it hurts to the point where it stops you from doing things you would normally do, a replacement surgery will likely be required.
  2. Does the pain keep you up at night? A tell-tale sign you could need surgery is if the shoulder hurts even when you’re resting. So, if you find it keeps you up at night and there is no relief even when you’re doing very little, it is best to get the problem checked out.
  3. Have you tried non-surgical treatments? As mentioned earlier, shoulder replacement surgery is used as a last resort when nothing else has worked.

The two-time Olympic gold medal winner and national team goalkeeper Hope Solo has just revealed that she has undergone a shoulder replacement procedure at age 35 and announced: ‘I’m filled with excitement knowing how life-changing this is and I look forward to coming back healthier and stronger than ever.”

Overall, shoulder replacement surgery is a very successful procedure that can help patients return to the full range of activities they enjoyed before they started experiencing problems with their shoulder.

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