(307) 358-6200


(307) 682-6222

What is Shoulder Joint Replacement?


If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, you may have been told you need surgery to replace it. Hearing one needs surgery can be terrifying for many — and we understand that this might be the case for you. 

Shoulder joint replacement surgery is a safe and effective procedure to relieve pain and help you resume everyday activities. It’s also the best way for patients with debilitating chronic shoulder conditions to find relief when other treatments like medication or physical therapy have failed them.

Shoulder joint replacement surgery has been around since the 1950s. There are approximately 53,000 people who undergo shoulder replacement surgery every year — making this a relatively standard surgical procedure in the United States. 

This article will cover what a shoulder replacement surgery is, how it is performed, the risks associated, and tips to prepare for surgery. 

What is Shoulder Joint Replacement Surgery?

Shoulder joint replacement is a surgical procedure in which the damaged cartilage and bone of the shoulder joint is surgically replaced with artificial materials. The diseased or damaged parts of the shoulder are removed and replaced with specially designed parts made of implant-grade metal alloys, plastics, or ceramics. 

The most common reason for this surgery is advanced osteoarthritis. A person with untreated advanced arthritis in the shoulder may have increasing difficulty sleeping due to pain and discomfort. People who have had shoulder replacement surgery typically report a drastic improvement in function as compared to those who only receive medication or therapy for their condition.

Shoulder joint replacement involves replacing either the damaged ball of the humerus bone, or both the ball-and-socket with a metal, plastic, or polymer implant that permanently anchors the end of the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade. A prosthetic implant may be used to replace part or all of the glenohumeral joint.  

How Is Shoulder Joint Replacement Surgery Done?

Shoulder replacement surgery involves making an incision across the front of the shoulder. The damaged tissue is then removed from the ball-and-socket joint in the shoulder. Depending on the extent of the damaged tissue, your orthopedic surgeon may opt for either a conventional shoulder replacement or a reverse shoulder replacement. 

These terms refer to the orientation of the replacement ball and socket. In a traditional shoulder replacement, a metal ball joint is implanted onto the humerus, and a polyethylene socket is inserted into the scapula. In a reverse shoulder replacement, the polyethylene socket is mounted to the humerus, and a metal ball joint is inserted into the scapula.

After careful reattachment of tissues surrounding the implant, a plastic spacer gets put between these two pieces to replace cartilage that would have allowed them to move smoothly with one another. This spacer prevents further damage while promoting new bone growth to heal the joint.    

Does Shoulder Joint Replacement Have Complications?

Complications of shoulder replacement surgery are rare but may include infection, loosening or breakage of components implanted during surgery, damage to nerves or blood vessels around the area, wound healing problems, and repeat surgeries. The risks always depend upon the individual’s body and their care of the wound after surgery. 

The most frequently reported complications following shoulder replacement surgery are — restricted arm movement, stiffness, blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), nerve injuries, loosening or breakage of components, bone fracture around the implant, and infection. 

How Do I  Prepare for Shoulder Joint Replacement?

If you are having your shoulder replaced surgically, here’s how to prepare for your procedure: 

  1. Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital. 
  2. Follow your doctor’s instructions about not eating or drinking (fasting) before surgery. 
  3. Don’t wear makeup on the day of surgery because it may irritate your eyes if there is any blood or other drainage in that area after the surgery; choose something easy to remove at home later like lipstick instead of mascara; avoid hair spray because it can irritate your breathing passages during general anesthesia; don’t use hair dye in the 24 hours before surgery because it can cause severe allergic reactions, which may include itching and swelling of the eyes.       
  4. Don’t take aspirin or any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen for seven days before surgery because they may increase the risk of bleeding after surgery; don’t take a multivitamin, a herbal supplement, or an antacid that contains magnesium during this time period either because they could cause problems with your anesthesia. 
  5. If you have diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about whether you need to change what medications you are taking in the weeks before your surgery. 
  6. Stop smoking at least two weeks before your surgery to help your recovery.

Finding the Right Orthopedic Surgeon

At Thunder Basin Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, our surgeons are well-experienced and specialize in treating various orthopedic injuries, including sports injuries. Our trained staff and experienced surgeons offer the best possible treatment and utmost care to each individual.

You may need a joint replacement for a number of reasons, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, or even a sports injury. These conditions lead to considerable pain, as well as a limited range of motion. At Thunder Basin Orthopaedics, we will work with you to evaluate whether you are a good candidate for a joint replacement by looking at your medical history as well as performing a physical exam and taking x-rays.

If you are ready to take the first steps towards pain-free joints, please request an appointment with us today.