Shoulder Replacement Overview

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is a leading provider of partial and total shoulder replacement services. Each year, our orthopaedic surgeons use their experience and expertise to help improve the quality of life of some 200 patients suffering from severe shoulder joint damage and pain.

What is Arthroplasty?

Arthroplasty is a surgical procedure to replace or restore a damaged joint to ease pain and improve mobility, thereby improving the patient’s quality of life. Artificial materials, such as metal, polyethylene, or ceramics, are used to repair portions of either the upper arm bone (humerus), which provides the ball of the joint, or the shoulder bone (scapula), which provides the socket of the joint, or portions of both these bones. 

Visit our Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Animations page to see a step-by-step presentation of what happens during a partial or total shoulder replacement.

Shoulder Replacement Services at BWH:

  • Total shoulder replacement surgery will replace portions of both the humerus and the scapula with artificial material such as metal, polyethylene or ceramics.
  • Partial shoulder replacement surgery will replace of portion of either the humerus or the scapula.
  • Inverse arthroplasty is used to treat patients who have irreparable rotator cuff damage. The unique prosthesis design shifts control of shoulder movement from the rotator cuff to the deltoid muscle.

Who Should Get a Shoulder Replacement?

A healthy ball-and-socket shoulder joint – with cartilage that absorbs stress and allows the ball to glide freely in the socket – enables a person to easily and painlessly move their shoulder through a greater range of motion than any other joint in the body. However, a person with an unhealthy shoulder joint is likely to experience pain when moving their arm, a reduced range of motion and loss of strength.

There are a variety of ways that the shoulder joint can become damaged to the point where it should be replaced, including:

  • Arthritis – osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Damaged or torn tissues in the shoulder
  • Badly broken bone near the shoulder joint
  • Tumor in or around the shoulder

Doctors will typically start shoulder repair treatment by using one or more alternative medical interventions, including arthroscopy, to try to alleviate your shoulder pain without replacing the joint. If these prove to be unsuccessful, your doctor will then consider factors such as your age and quality of life goals to determine whether you would benefit from a shoulder replacement. The prosthesis can help to improve range of motion, stop or reduce joint pain, increase shoulder strength and improve your quality of life. Most people should be able to return to comfortably performing most daily activities following their recovery and many are able to return to sports such as golf and swimming.

Recovering from Shoulder Replacement Surgery

An arthroplasty generally takes about 2 hours, followed by a stay of 1-3 days in the hospital. Recovery largely depends on your general health before the surgery and the type of joint that is being replaced. Most hip and knee replacement recipients experience pain relief and/or improved movement relatively soon, but then need several months to recover their normal strength and energy. Shoulder recovery, however, should be quicker.

Your physician will give you instructions throughout your recovery, but below is an overview of what you should and shouldn’t do to improve the quality and speed of your recovery.

What can I do to help improve my recovery?

  • Stick to the exercises recommended by your physician.
  • Don’t use your arm to push yourself up from a chair or bed.
  • Don’t participate in contact sports.
  • Don’t lift anything heavy.
  • Limit the rotation of your arm.

Visit the arthroplasty health library page to get more information on the benefits and risks of shoulder replacement procedures and what to expect before, during and after the surgery.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopaedic specialists, please call us at 1-800-294-9999.