What is Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

What is Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Shoulder replacement surgery involves replacing damaged areas of bone in the shoulder with metal and plastic implants. Also called shoulder arthroplasty, this procedure is performed if you’re experiencing from pain, weakness, or reduced shoulder mobility due to damage to the joint surfaces. Various conditions can cause the need for a shoulder replacement, including:

Types of Shoulder Replacement Surgery


Depending on the condition of your shoulder joint, your doctor may recommend one of three shoulder replacement options:

  • Total shoulder replacement: The most common type of shoulder replacement, total shoulder replacement surgery replaces both the ball and socket in the shoulder. The ball, or the upper part of the arm bone, is replaced by a metal ball. The socket, part of the shoulder blade, is covered with plastic.
  • Partial shoulder replacement: Only the ball is replaced during a partial shoulder replacement, likely because it is the only part of the shoulder that is damaged.
  • Reverse shoulder replacement. If your rotator cuff is severely damaged or a previous shoulder replacement was unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend a reverse shoulder replacement. Both the ball and socket are replaced, but the implants are reversed. The metal ball is attached to the shoulder blade and the socket is attached to the upper arm bone.

How is Shoulder Replacement Surgery Performed?


Most people undergo nerve block anesthesia with sedation for shoulder replacement surgery, but general anesthesia may also be used. The procedure can take anywhere from one to three hours, during which your doctor will make an incision that allows them to view and work with the shoulder joint. They will remove the damaged parts of the bone and joint surfaces and replace them with implants before repairing the incisions.


Risks to Consider


Complications during shoulder replacement surgery are rare but do sometimes occur. Potential complications can include:

  • Infection - Your doctor will administer antibiotics to help prevent infection after surgery
  • Nerve damage - The nerves of the arm and shoulder may sustain damage, resulting in numbness, weakness, or pain
  • Instability and dislocation - The new ball implant can come out of the socket and become dislocated
  • Eventual loosening of the joint - Over time, the implants may loosen from the bone or wear over time. Additional surgery may be required to rectify the problem of loosening or wear of implants.

Preparing for Surgery


Before surgery, be sure to discuss any pre-existing conditions and medications you take with your doctor. You will undergo a physical examination and imaging tests so your physician can assess the shoulder joint. Your doctor will likely ask you to refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol leading up to the surgery, and you may have to stop taking certain medications.

What to Expect After Shoulder Replacement Surgery

After the Surgery

Most patients can go home the same day as their shoulder replacement surgery. Be sure to have someone available to bring you home from the surgery, as you will be groggy from anesthesia and unable to drive yourself. Your arm will be placed in a sling to prevent shoulder motion, and you’ll likely experience some pain and swelling immediately following the procedure. Your doctor will order an X-ray to ensure the implant is placed correctly.

After you go home, you’ll begin a physical therapy plan, which you will likely be able to start about a week or two after surgery. After about six weeks, you should be able to use your arm for light activity. It can take two to three months to experience unrestricted use of the shoulder, but the shoulder joint may still lack mobility, and you may experience weakness. Most patients are pain-free after about six months and over 95% of shoulder replacement surgery patients will be pain-free after one year.



You will have mobility and strength limitations following surgery, especially for the first six weeks after the procedure. Most limitations go away eventually, though some people may encounter permanent restrictions depending on the type of surgery and their recovery process.

You may want to sleep on an incline, use a pillow to prop up your shoulder, and avoid sleeping on your affected shoulder after shoulder replacement surgery. Icing before bed and taking pain relievers can help relieve discomfort while sleeping as well.

Depending on the dressings used after your surgery, you may be able to shower two days after surgery or up to two weeks after surgery. You should avoid submerging your shoulder for four weeks after your operation to ensure the wound is completely healed and watertight.

Following surgery, try to wear loose clothing that is easy to pull on and off. Avoid clothing with many buttons or zippers, as this can be cumbersome when your range of motion is limited.

Shoulder replacement surgery can take anywhere from one to three hours.

Generally, a shoulder replacement can last about 10 to 20 years, depending on a person’s situation and recovery.

Get Care

Shoulder Replacement Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian

The orthopedic shoulder specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia Orthopedics have been pioneers in the field of shoulder replacement surgery dating back to the 1950s, when Dr. Charles S. Neer, performed the first shoulder arthroplasty at Columbia. Dr. Neer pioneered total shoulder replacements and dramatically changed the direction of shoulder arthroplasty surgery. He’s referred to as the “father of modern shoulder surgery.”

Today, our orthopedic surgeons continue to advance shoulder replacement with new prostheses and techniques to improve the quality of life for patients with degenerative joint disease and other shoulder disorders. If you’re a candidate for shoulder replacement surgery, our physicians can help guide you through a successful procedure and recovery.