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Shoulder Replacement

(Replacement, Total Shoulder; Shoulder Joint Replacement; Replacement, Shoulder Joint; Total Shoulder Joint Replacement; Replacement, Total Shoulder Joint)

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Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


Shoulder replacement surgery replaces a worn, painful shoulder joint with a new, functional joint made from metal and plastic.

Shoulder Replacement

EQ00020_shoulder replacement
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Reasons for Procedure

The surgery relieves debilitating shoulder joint pain caused by a shoulder condition or injury that interferes with daily life.

Total shoulder replacement is a surgery done to treat different shoulder conditions and injuries, such as:

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

What to Expect

Before surgery, you may meet with your doctor for a physical exam, medical history, and tests. You may have blood tests.

Imaging studies that help evaluate the shoulder joint and surrounding structures include:

Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medicationss up to two weeks before the procedure like:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Blood-thinners
  • Antiplatelets
  • Anti-arthritis medications

You may be given either:

  • General anesthesia—you will be asleep through the surgery
  • Regional anesthesia—used to block pain in the upper body, but you will not be asleep

The doctor will make a cut through your skin near your shoulder. The large muscles around the shoulder will be pulled back. Another incision will be made in the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of tendons that cover and support the shoulder joint. Pulling back the muscles and tendons will allow the doctor to have a clear view of the shoulder joint.

The doctor will then remove the shoulder joint and replace it with an implant that looks very similar. It includes a ball, socket, and stem parts.

After inserting the implant, the doctor will close the rotator cuff, muscles, and skin with stitches. A drain may also be inserted to remove fluids that may build up in the shoulder after surgery.

A few hours

Anesthesia will block pain during the procedure. You will have pain after the procedure. Ask your doctor about medication to help manage pain.

This surgery is done in a hospital. The usual length of stay is 2-3 days. If you have any problems, you may need to stay longer.

Right after the procedure, you will be in a recovery room where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored. Recovery may also include:

  • Pain medications
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Medication to prevent blood clots
  • X-rays to evaluate the new shoulder joint

You may start physical therapy as early as the day after your surgery. A physical therapist will work with you to help you regain your range of motion and strength in your shoulder. You will also continue physical therapy after you leave the hospital.

You will wear an arm sling for the first several weeks after surgery. The sling will help support your shoulder as it heals. You should be able to do simple tasks, like feeding yourself and dressing, within two weeks after surgery. In the meantime, family members or friends may help you with daily activities.

When you return home, take these steps:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for cleaning the incision site and wearing the arm sling.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to drive.
  • Be sure to follow all your doctor’s instructions.

Antibiotics may be needed before certain dental procedures or surgeries now that you have an artificial joint. This will prevent possible infections from entering the bloodstream. Make sure to let the dentist or doctor know that you have an artificial joint.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Shoulder stiffness, pain, or instability
  • Problems at the incision site, such as bleeding or drainage
  • Signs of an infections such as fevers, chills, redness, or warmth
  • Numbness or tingling in your shoulder, arm, or fingers

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Academy of Family Physicians


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons



Canadian Orthopaedic Association


Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation



Arthroplasty. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/orthopaedic/arthroplasty_92,P07677. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Degenerative joint disease of the glenohumeral joint. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 7, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Joint replacement—shoulder. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/shoulder_replacement/hic_total_shoulder_joint_replacement.aspx. Updated July 21, 2009. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Shoulder joint replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00094. Updated December 2011. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Shoulder replacement surgery: diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at: http://www.hss.org/conditions_Shoulder-Replacement-Surgery-Diagnosis-Treatment-Recovery.asp. Updated July 1, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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