Ask the Expert
Dr. William Paterson
Question: I have heard of knee and hip replacement, is there a replacement for shoulders?
Answer: Yes, similar to hip and knee replacement, there is shoulder replacement surgery as well. In fact, there are actually two main types of shoulder replacements: standard shoulder replacement and reverse shoulder replacement. A standard shoulder replacement is typically recommended in cases where the patient has significant arthritis in the shoulder joint, and has tried other treatment options which no longer provide relief from the pain. These surgeries are very successful in reducing shoulder pain and improving limited mobility caused by the arthritis. However, as is the case with any joint replacement, they do have a lifespan and will “wear out” over time. The more you use it, the quicker the replaced parts can wear down. While a reasonable level of activity and exercise is beneficial after surgery, we typically recommend limiting activities, such as heavy weightlifting, which place frequent extreme forces on the replaced joint. Under normal circumstances, we expect a standard shoulder replacement to last 12-15 years or more.
A reverse shoulder replacement is used in the case where shoulder arthritis is combined with a rotator cuff tear. This type of shoulder replacement was invented specifically to solve this problem, because a standard shoulder replacement will not be successful if a rotator cuff tear is present. The reverse shoulder replacement allows the large deltoid muscle on the outer part of the shoulder to perform the functions (lift and rotate the arm) that the rotator cuff would normally do. We expect patients to get very good relief of pain and increased use of the arm after surgery. However, this replacement places more stress on the shoulder, so we anticipate the good results to last 7-10 years or more.
In patients who have continued discomfort from arthritis with or without a rotator cuff tear, shoulder replacement can be very successful in relieving pain and restoring function for a long time.