NAH Joint Replacement Program

Frequently asked questions about total shoulder replacement

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a wearing away of the smooth cartilage in the shoulder joint. At some point, it may wear down to bone. Rubbing of bone against bone causes discomfort, swelling and stiffness. Many patients need surgery to replace the damaged joint.

What is a total shoulder replacement?

A total shoulder replacement is an operation that removes the arthritic ball of the upper arm bone, or humerus, as well as damaged cartilage from the shoulder socket. The ball is replaced with a metal ball that is fixed firmly inside the humerus. The socket can be replaced with a plastic or metal liner. This creates a joint that functions smoothly and does not hurt.

What are the results of a total shoulder replacement?

Results vary but depend on the health of the tissue that surrounds the joint, the degree of the arthritis at the time of surgery and the patient’s activity level. Also, in order to obtain the best results, the patient needs to strictly follow the precautions ordered by the surgeon. After surgery, most patients are better able to perform daily activities such as eating, drinking and combing their hair.

When should I have this type of surgery?

Your orthopedic surgeon will decide if surgery is an option for you. This decision will be based on your history, exam and X-rays. Your orthopedic surgeon will then ask you to decide if your discomfort, stiffness and disability give you enough reason to have surgery. Often, there is no harm in waiting if conservative, non-operative methods are helping to reduce your discomfort.

Am I too old for this surgery?

Age is not an issue if you are in good health and have the desire to keep living an active lifestyle. You may be asked to see your primary care provider or a specialist for his/her view about your general health. Some extra tests may be needed before surgery.

How long will my new shoulder last?

The length of time that a shoulder implant lasts varies for each patient and depends on his or her age, weight, activity level and medical condition. A total joint implant is a medical device subject to wear that may lead to failure. While it is important to follow all of your surgeon’s recommendations after surgery, there is no guarantee that your implant will last for a certain length of time.

Why might I require a revision to the replacement joint?

A joint replacement will wear over time. The most common reason for needing a revision is that the artificial surface has come loose from the bone.

What are the major risks?

Most surgeries go well, without any problems. Infections and blood clots are two serious complications. To avoid these complications, you will be given antibiotics and blood thinners. The hospital staff takes many precautions to reduce the risk of infection. Early walking, doing ankle pumps and moving around reduce the chance of a blood clot.

Should I exercise before surgery?

Yes, you should consult your surgeon and therapist about the exercises that will help strengthen your entire body before you have surgery. Please read the educational materials provided by your surgeon for more information.

Will I need blood?

It is uncommon to need blood after this surgery. Surgeons use intraoperative medications to minimize bleeding.

Will my heart be monitored?

Your heart will be monitored during surgery. If it is necessary, your heart will be monitored after surgery during your hospital stay.

Why should I quit smoking before surgery?

Many surgeons advise their patients to stop smoking before surgery and to think about quitting for good. Tobacco products have an adverse effect on blood vessels, which can affect the body’s way of healing wounds and bones. The risk of infection and lung problems after surgery is also greater for patients who use tobacco. There are many sources of information offered to help people quit smoking.

How long will I be in the hospital?

Most patients who have shoulder replacement surgery can expect to be in the hospital for one to two days. You will be discharged as soon as you are comfortable, safe and have met your therapy goals.

How long will the surgery take?

Surgery takes about two to three hours. Some of this time is used by the operating room staff to prepare you for surgery.

Who will perform the surgery?

Your orthopedic surgeon will perform the surgery. A surgical assistant often helps during the surgery and you will receive a separate bill from that assistant.

Do I need to be put to sleep for this surgery?

Most patients will be given a regional anesthetic, or arm block, which provides numbness, loss of pain or loss of feeling to your arm. In addition, you will receive a general anesthetic. Your surgeon and the anesthesiologist will discuss anesthesia with you.

Will the surgery be painful?

Yes, you will have discomfort after surgery. We will try to keep you as comfortable as we can. Most patients are able to stop very strong medication within one day and control their discomfort with oral pain medication and the use of ice. On the day of surgery, some patients are able to control their own pain medicine with a special pump that delivers a drug right into their IV, if ordered by their doctors. This is called Patient Controlled Analgesia, or PCA.

How long and where will my scar be?

The scar will be four to five inches long and will be along the front of your shoulder.

Will I need any other equipment?

You will be provided a shoulder immobilizer prior to or at the time of surgery. The length of time you will need to wear the shoulder immobilizer will depend on your surgeon’s recommendations, but most often it is for a minimum of four to six weeks. You may also need extra home equipment to assist with bathing and dressing. The therapist will provide instruction on any other equipment that you may need.

Where will I go after discharge from the hospital?

With proper planning, most patients are able to return to their own homes after discharge. You are encouraged to discuss the timing of your surgery with your surgeon to ensure you will have time to prepare and have assistance arranged. Despite the best planning, some patients will need to discharge to a subacute facility for a short period before returning home. During the pre-operative education class and your hospital admission, our staff will help you determine if this is necessary for you. You should check with your insurance company to see if you have subacute rehab benefits.

Will I need help at home?

You will need a coach, family member or friend to assist you for a few days or a few weeks after your hospital stay. The length of time help is needed depends on your progress. You will need someone to assist you with meal preparations, house cleaning, putting on and removing the shoulder immobilizer, upper body dressing and your home exercise program. If you need a home healthcare nurse to come to your home, arrangements may be made if you qualify for that service. If you prepare before your surgery, you can reduce the amount of extra help you will need. It is best to have the laundry done, house cleaned, yard work done, clean linens put on the bed and single portion frozen meals made.

Will I need therapy once I go home?

Depending on your surgery, your surgeon may want you to have physical therapy after discharge from the hospital. For the majority of patients, this therapy will begin shortly after discharge and take place in an outpatient physical therapy clinic. Our care coordinator will help you make these arrangements, if they are not already in place prior to surgery. If for medical or safety reasons attending outpatient physical therapy is not appropriate, the care coordinator will help you make arrangements for in-home physical therapy as required.

How long will I be unable to perform normal activities?

You will wear a shoulder immobilizer for a number of weeks after surgery. You will need to perform all activities one-handed or receive help from your family members or friends. This will affect many of your normal activities.

How long until I can drive?

Patients are not allowed to drive for a certain period of time after shoulder replacement surgery. Ask your surgeon when you will be able to drive.

When can I get back to work?

You should take off work until after you are seen for your first post-operative follow-up visit 10 to 14 days after your surgery. Then you can discuss with your surgeon when you may be able to return to work. A therapist can make recommendations for protecting your joint and saving energy on the job.

How often will I need to see my surgeon after surgery?

You will be seen for your first postoperative office visit 10 to 14 days after discharge from the hospital. After that, many patients are seen at six weeks, 12 weeks and then yearly. This will depend on how well you recover.

Do you recommend any restrictions after this surgery?

Patients are to wear the shoulder immobilizer at all times except for exercising, bathing and upper body dressing. Some patients are not allowed to actively move or functionally use the arm for four weeks – and sometimes longer. Your surgeon and therapist will instruct you about precautions and restrictions. Do not resume any activities or exercise after surgery without checking with your surgeon or therapist.

Will I notice anything different about my shoulder?

The goal after total shoulder replacement surgery is to primarily relieve the pain and secondarily have a shoulder joint that feels like a normal functioning shoulder. Most patients have no pain in their shoulders and have improved function after surgery.