If your shoulder joint ever gets damaged, you may require a surgical procedure known as a shoulder arthroplasty to repair or replace it. The joint connecting your upper arm to the rest of your body is a ball-and-socket joint and may wear down over time from overuse. Tendons and ligaments connected to the bones and muscles hold the joint together. Between the bones is cartilage, which acts as a buffer, so your bones don't rub together. When all these parts are working properly, you're able to move your arm back and forth and up and down without pain.
However, there are ways to damage your shoulder joint and the tendons and ligaments holding it together. Depending on the scope of damage your shoulder sustains, you may end up needing a total shoulder arthroplasty. Examples of reasons why you may need the surgical procedure include the following:
- You sustained a serious shoulder injury
- You have a torn rotator cuff
- You have severe arthritis
About the Procedure of Total Shoulder Arthroplasty
If you're doctor schedules you for a shoulder arthroplasty, there are a few things to expect from the procedure. For starters, during the procedure, your doctor will replace damaged bone in your shoulder joint with plastic or metal implants. It's important to note that this is a major medical procedure that will require you to remain in the hospital for a few days, as well as many weeks of physical therapy afterward.
Prior to the procedure, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and may even order an X-ray and other imaging tests to get a better look at your injured joint. He or she will also run through any medications you're currently taking and make recommendations to stop taking certain drugs days or weeks before the procedure. Additionally, your doctor may advise you to exercise more or limit your drinking. If you're a smoker, you will also have to quit that habit prior to the procedure to limit the possibility of complications and other risks.
The night before the procedure, you will have to begin fasting after midnight and make plans for someone to help transport you to and from the hospital. After the procedure, your arm won't have a full range of motion for a while, making driving and other everyday tasks difficult to do alone for a while.
Complications of Total Shoulder Arthroplasty
Most recovery periods go off without a hitch. However, there is always a chance for complications, including the following:
- Bleeding or Infection Near Your Joint
- Nerve Damage
- Joint Dislocation
Recovery for Total Shoulder Arthroplasty
In the days following your procedure, you'll spend time resting in the hospital before your doctor sends you home. Most people experience pain and swelling following the procedure, so your doctor will likely prescribe painkillers to help. Cold compresses may also help alleviate any swelling and your medical team will place your arm in a brace to help keep it still, so it can heal. You can also expect to begin physical therapy sessions shortly after the procedure to help keep your muscles strong.
It's important to note, however, that recovering from a shoulder arthroplasty is a process and may take weeks or months before you're able to lift much more than a glass of water. Most patients can’t begin driving again for at least six weeks after the surgery. During that time, you'll attend regular physical therapy sessions and follow-up visits with your doctor.