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Total Shoulder Replacement: A Treatment for Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis can be debilitating in many patients, resulting in persistent lateral arm pain that limits many activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, putting deodorant on or washing your hair. Many times, the pain of arthritis even awakens a person at night.

Osteoarthritis, which is sometimes called degenerative joint disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own joints, are two of the primary forms of arthritis that affect the shoulder joint. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affect an estimated 31 million and 1.5 million Americans respectively, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This means that approximately 1 in 10 Americans will develop either of these diseases, if not another form of arthritis, that places the health of their shoulder at risk.

Due to advances in technology, including newer, more anatomic implants and improved perioperative pain control, total shoulder replacement offers an effective solution for individuals who suffer from shoulder arthritis and, consequently, shoulder pain.

Dr. Robert Rolf, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, performs many of the total shoulder replacements at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. In fact, Dr. Rolf is able to perform outpatient total shoulder replacements. This provides a cost efficient and time saving model for patients, allowing them to return home to recover instead of spending the night in a hospital.

Based on Dr. Rolf’s extensive experience in treating patients throughout the Greater Cincinnati area, here is information about total shoulder replacement and how to prepare for the operation.

What Is Total Shoulder Replacement?

Shoulder Surgery Infographic

Total shoulder replacement, also known as total shoulder arthroplasty, is a well-established and effective surgical treatment for joints that have been irreversibly damaged by arthritis or a degenerative disease.

A total shoulder replacement differs from a traditional replacement in a few key ways. First, the use of newer prosthetic designs allows patients to be more active than they have traditionally been, returning to sports such as golf, swimming, and tennis. Second, emerging trends in perioperative pain management allow the procedure to be performed in the outpatient setting, similar to patients who undergo rotator cuff surgery. This revolutionary approach to shoulder replacement not only allows the patient to return home quickly and recover in the comfort of their own home, but it also significantly reduces the cost of the procedure.

Candidates for Total Shoulder Replacement

While shoulder replacement is less common than knee or hip replacement, candidates for these surgeries share many similarities.

A suitable candidate for total shoulder replacement has chronic pain that prevents them from completing ordinary daily tasks. While this pain is often the result of severe osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or another form of the disease, individuals who have had their shoulder joint irreversibly damaged or suffer from debilitating pain caused by another condition may also be suitable candidates.

Keep in mind that most patients should try more conservative treatments prior to considering surgery. Not every patient qualifies for a total joint replacement. Surgery is often reserved for individuals who have attempted conservative, non-surgical treatments for their condition with no success. The best way to determine if you are a suitable candidate is to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rolf or another orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in shoulder surgery.

Preparing for Shoulder Surgery

If you’ve ever asked your family or friends about shoulder surgery, they likely went on about how it was the most painful surgery they ever experienced. They likely also said that it took nearly a year to recover, let alone return to sports, exercise or the other physical activities that they enjoy. Fortunately, there are steps you can take prior to your operation that will minimize your potential discomfort and help you achieve an optimal recovery.

Choose an Experienced Shoulder Surgeon

Without a doubt, the specialized training and expertise of your orthopedic surgeon will be a significant influence on your outcomes, if not the primary determiner. For this reason, it is paramount that you take the time to select an orthopedic specialist who you can place the greatest amount of confidence in, not just one who sees a large volume of patients.

Consider this: shoulder arthroscopy involves the use of saline to inflate the problematic joint so the surgeon has a better view while they work. The longer the surgery takes, the more swelling that will occur, consequently making the operation increasingly difficult. An experienced and efficient surgeon will not only keep the length of the surgery to a minimum, but also minimize the amount of swelling that may occur.

It is also important to know what to expect during the days, weeks, or even months following your procedure. One way to set a level of expectations for yourself is to ask your physician what steps they take to monitor their patients’ outcomes. A qualified physician will provide objective data on how their patients have improved since having shoulder surgery.

Choose an Experienced Physical Therapist

State-of-the-art preoperative pain management and patient-focused physical therapy can enhance your recovery. In fact, the physical therapist that you work with is perhaps the most critical component in your recovery.

Just like physicians, physical therapists can have specific areas of focus or have conditions that they treat more frequently than others. This is why at Beacon Orthopaedics, we provide physical therapy on site at several of our locations. If you opt to have surgery or therapy elsewhere, it is well worth your time to choose a physical therapist who understands exactly what you need following shoulder surgery. Moreover, finding a therapist that has a long-standing relationship with your physician is even better. This will ensure that your therapist has a complete understanding of how to go about your rehabilitation.

Practice Donning and Doffing

Sometimes, using the sling can be the most humbling part of the experience. Practice putting the sling on and removing it before surgery to limit your frustrations when you only have one good shoulder to put the sling on. This is particularly important for those who undergo surgery in an outpatient setting. After all, since these types of patients can expect to return home the same day of their operation, they should be self-sufficient enough to manage their sling.

Discuss Surgery Options with Dr. Rolf

Shoulder replacement surgery is technically demanding and, like all forms of surgery, should only be performed by a skilled, experienced, sub-specialty trained physician.

Dr. Robert Rolf is one of the fellowship-trained, experienced physicians that you can talk to about surgery at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Not only is he board certified in Orthopedic Surgery, but he also has his Specialty Certificate in Sports Medicine.

In addition to world-class expertise in shoulder replacement, he can also discuss with you arthroscopic techniques for shoulder instability and rotator cuff tears or complex reconstructive procedures such as tendon transfers. You can schedule an appointment online to meet with Dr. Rolf at Beacon West in Ohio, Beacon’s Batesville or Lawrenceburg locations in Indiana, or Beacon’s Northern Kentucky location.

You can also attend one of his free Shoulder Talks to learn more about shoulder pain, treatment options, and related topics. For a list of dates and for RSVP information, please visit Dr. Rolf’s page.