Shoulder Replacement 101: What You Need to Know

Whether it’s from an injury or chronic condition such as osteoarthritis, shoulder pain and mobility limitations can keep you on life’s sidelines. If conservative treatments including medication and physical therapy have failed, shoulder replacement surgery. may be recommended. The good news is that while it can relieve your pain, recovery time is long, and you’ll be asked to do a lot to achieve the best outcome. Before setting the date, this is what you should know. 

Shoulder Replacement Surgeries 

There are three types of shoulder replacement surgeries. Total shoulder replacement, the most common procedure, replaces the ball of your humerus with a metal ball. The socket the ball sits in is then given a new plastic surface, restoring smooth movement to the joint. Partial shoulder replacement replaces only a damaged ball, leaving a healthy socket intact. Reverse shoulder replacement is done when a damaged rotator cuff is not healthy enough to support a new joint. 

About the Procedure 

Shoulder replacement is done in two to three hours under general anesthesia and requires a two- to three-day hospital stay. Less complicated replacements may qualify for an outpatient procedure. Your doctor will recommend the best procedure for you. 

Before the Procedure 

The risks and benefits of shoulder replacement will be reviewed as well as pre-surgical preparations. You’ll be asked to help reduce the risk of surgical complications by stopping smoking, eating a nutritious diet and keeping chronic conditions such as diabetes well-controlled. Anti-inflammatories and anticoagulants that could cause unwanted bleeding should be stopped before surgery. Your care team will help with plans for post-surgical home care. 

After the Procedure 

Pain is an expected and natural part of the healing process and will be well-managed by your doctor. Your arm will be immobilized in a sling for support and to limit movement that could damage your new shoulder. Physical therapy will start within 24 hours and in a few days, you’ll be headed home. Therapy will continue on an outpatient basis. 

Each procedure is different, but expect at least six weeks of post-surgical limitations including movement, weight and driving restrictions. You’ll be able to care for yourself in a few weeks but having someone at home will help. Carefully following restrictions is very important to the outcome of your procedure. 


Complications are rare, but include bleeding, nerve damage and infection. With any joint replacement, components may loosen or wear over time, requiring revision. Following your doctor’s instructions carefully will help achieve the best results. 


The long-term outcomes of shoulder replacement have been less studied than other joint replacement procedures. Most clients report excellent pain relief and better, if not perfect range of motion. Each situation is unique, and expectations will vary. 

Knowing what to expect can take the fear out of having surgery. Your care team is dedicated to giving you a life with less pain and better mobility. Commit to being a good partner in your recovery and together, you will achieve the best results.