Shoulder Replacement

Shoulder replacement surgery replaces the worn cartilage surfaces of your shoulder joint with smooth, artificial parts. It is a complex procedure performed to relieve shoulder pain and improve mobility and function. If you have severe arthritis or a fracture in your shoulder joint, you may benefit from a shoulder replacement.

Shoulder Anatomy

The shoulder is a “ball and socket” joint, with the ball-shaped head of the humerus (upper arm bone) fitting into a socket called the glenoid. The glenoid is smaller and is part of the shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff is the collective name for the group of tendons and their associated muscles that surrounds the humeral head and helps with lifting and rotating the arm. The rotator cuff also helps to stabilize the shoulder and facilitate shoulder movement.

The ball is held in the socket by ligaments and by the rotator cuff tendons.

Ideal Candidate for Shoulder Replacement Surgery

You may need shoulder replacement if you are experiencing severe pain associated with arthritis or when the shoulder is severely injured with a fracture or a massive rotator cuff tear. Shoulder replacement surgery is indicated if nonoperative treatment does not adequately relieve your symptoms. Severe pain at night and an inability to perform normal daily functions rank as two of the top reasons that patients consider shoulder replacement surgery.

Shoulder Replacement Surgery

In a standard shoulder replacement surgery (also called anatomic total shoulder arthroplasty), a plastic cup replaces the worn cartilage surface of the shoulder socket (glenoid), and a metal ball is attached to the top of the humerus to replace the worn cartilage surface of the humeral head. The ball typically is attached to the humerus via a stem that is inserted down the shaft of the humerus. Another type of shoulder replacement surgery called a reverse total shoulder arthroplasty is used in special situations (severe fractures and massive, irreparable rotator cuff tears, for example) where a standard replacement would likely not work as well. 

If Dr. Jurek determines that you are a candidate for shoulder replacement surgery, she will help you plan and prepare for your shoulder surgery. Please read Surgery Guidance before your surgery for information on what to expect before, during, and after your surgery and important tips and advice to make your recovery as easy and successful as possible.

Recovery Period After Shoulder Replacement Surgery

  • Recovery time after anatomic shoulder replacement surgery typically includes a 6 week period of protecting your shoulder in a shoulder immobilizer. During this time, gentle passive range of motion of the shoulder is encouraged (passive = gentle movement of your operative shoulder using your other hand to create movement) to prevent stiffness. A visit or two with a physical therapist during these first six weeks is typically very helpful to ensure that you are moving your shoulder safely.
  • Regular physical therapy visits and active range of motion of your shoulder (active = moving your operative shoulder without the assistance of the other hand) begin at 6 weeks post-op.
  • As your range of motion increases, you will begin to strengthen your shoulder muscles. See a video example of a patient after shoulder surgery.
  • At 4 months post-op, you will likely be able to do most of your normal daily activities without much difficulty, and return to sports (depending on your specific sport) begins around this time as well.
  • You can expect full recovery from your shoulder replacement surgery at around 10 to 12 months.

Shoulder Replacement Surgery in Seattle, WA

If you have any questions about shoulder replacement surgery or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Jurek, please call (206) 386-2600. You may also request an appointment online.

Shoulder Replacement FAQs

Is shoulder replacement a major surgery?

Shoulder replacement surgery is major surgery requiring general anesthesia, so you can expect to need to take it very easy for the first couple of days after surgery. You will feel groggy and tired and this is normal as you recover from your shoulder replacement surgery. Depending on what type of work you do, you may be able to return to one-handed work or desk work within a week or two after surgery. If you do work that requires the use of your operative extremity and if that work is rigorous and physically demanding, you may need to be off of work or do modified light-duty work for 3 to 4 months following surgery. Dr. Jurek will work with you to determine an individualized plan that is safe and optimal for you to return to your desired work and recreational activities.

How long does shoulder replacement surgery take?

Generally, shoulder replacement surgery takes about 2.5 hours. This includes anesthesia time.

What type of anesthesia is used for shoulder replacement surgery?

A combination of general anesthesia and regional anesthesia is used for shoulder replacement surgery. The regional anesthesia is called an “interscalene block” and it provides extended pain relief to help with the immediate postoperative pain after a shoulder replacement. The anesthesiologist may use a catheter (a small, flexible tube) connected to a pump to deliver numbing medication slowly over a couple of days as part of the block; you and your anesthesiologist will discuss the option of having a nerve catheter placed before you go to the operating room on the day of surgery.

How painful is shoulder replacement?

Shoulder pain is different for each person who has a shoulder replacement but in general, you can expect to have pain for which you will take pain medication for 2 to 5 days after surgery. The purpose of the interscalene block is to minimize the amount of pain you feel after surgery and to therefore minimize the amount of narcotic pain medication you take in the first few days postoperatively.

See Things to Do Before Surgery for a list of strategies to help maximize your pain control after surgery.

Where is my shoulder replacement surgery performed?

Shoulder replacement surgery is performed in a hospital or at a surgery center, depending upon your medical history, health status, and insurance coverage (some insurances require shoulder replacement surgery to be performed in a hospital setting only, but this is changing). You can expect to stay overnight in the hospital and to be discharged the morning following your surgery. If you have your shoulder replacement performed at a surgery center, you will go home the same day.

What can I expect immediately after shoulder replacement surgery?

  • If you have an interscalene block, you will likely have numbness of your operative arm until it wears off (this usually lasts 8-12 hours but can last up to 72 hours or longer). If you go home with a nerve catheter, you can expect the numbness to continue until you remove the nerve catheter.
  • Expect to feel tired and worn out after surgery; shoulder replacement surgery asks a lot of your body in terms of energy and many patients are surprised by the level of fatigue and low energy they experience for the first few days or even the first week or two after surgery. This is a normal part of the healing process after a significant orthopedic surgery and it is best to factor this into your plan for optimal recovery.

Will I be in a sling after shoulder replacement surgery?

After shoulder replacement surgery, Dr. Jurek will have you protect your shoulder in a sling for approximately 6 weeks. This time period allows the subscapularis tendon to heal which is very important in achieving a successful outcome.

How soon after shoulder replacement do I start physical therapy?

Regularly scheduled physical therapy visits once or twice a week after a shoulder replacement are typically initiated 6 weeks post-op after anatomic total shoulder arthroplasty. Many patients benefit from a visit or two after their first postoperative visit with Dr. Jurek (usually 7-10 days after surgery) and before the 6-week pos-top mark to go over a few gentle exercises that are safe to perform during that time period.

Many Seattle physical therapists have full calendars and it is often beneficial to schedule your PT appointments well ahead of time (you can do this before your surgery to ensure your therapist’s availability after surgery).

How soon after shoulder replacement surgery can I shower?

You may shower once you feel comfortable enough to do so. If you have a nerve catheter in place, you will need to wait until you remove this to shower. You should not soak in a tub, hot tub, or pool after surgery until after your first postoperative visit with Dr. Jurek and until your surgical incision is completely healed.

What should I wear after a shoulder replacement surgery?

After surgery, larger, loose-fitting shirts, especially shirts with a large neck opening and button-down shirts are helpful. See Things to Do Before Surgery for a list of helpful suggestions.

How do I sleep after shoulder replacement surgery?

Sleep after shoulder surgery, particularly shoulder replacement surgery can be quite challenging. Many patients find sleeping more upright, propped up on pillows or a wedge pillow, or sleeping in a recliner to be very helpful. See Things to Do Before Surgery for a list of helpful suggestions.

Is shoulder replacement surgery successful?

Overall, the success rate for pain relief for shoulder replacement surgery is very good, and most patients report they are very satisfied with the results of their surgery.

Dr. Jurek will talk with you during your clinic visit about your personal goals for returning to sports and activities after shoulder replacement surgery. Many patients are able to return to high-level activities after a shoulder replacement surgery and she will answer any questions or specific concerns you may have regarding the activities and sports you wish to resume postoperatively.

What are the risks of shoulder replacement surgery?

Shoulder replacement surgery has a few specific risks associated with the procedure, as well as general risks inherent in any surgical procedure. These include:

  • Infection
  • Nerve or blood vessel injury
  • Persistent shoulder pain
  • Implant dislocation
  • Loosening of the implant(s) from bone over time
  • Tearing of the rotator cuff with resultant poor function of the shoulder replacement
  • The need for additional shoulder surgery

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601 Broadway 7th Floor 
Seattle, WA 98122
3400 California Ave SW Ste. 210 
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 386-2600

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601 Broadway 
7th Floor 
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 386-2600

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