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Shoulder Replacement Recovery… What Should You Expect?

March 22nd, 2011

One of the key elements of a successful shoulder replacement surgery is a proper and well guided recovery.

A shoulder replacement can often allow a patient to resume many of his or her pre-operative activities. The procedure predictably provides pain relief, but functional improvement is variable and patient dependent. Additionally, an important part of this recovery requires the patient to commit to the surgeon’s recovery and post surgical rehab plan

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. This may involve restricting certain activities, performing the prescribed exercises, and, if needed, attending occupational or physical therapy sessions on a regular basis. Each plan takes the patient’s age and health into account, so it is highly unlikely that one patient’s plan will be identical to another’s.

After the surgery is completed, the patient will spend one or two hours in the recovery room. He or she will not be moved to a hospital room until awake. If a nerve block (done to control post op pain) is placed before the procedure, upon awakening, the patient may notice that the arm on which surgery was performed is numb and that the wrist and fingers may not move normally for up to 24 hours.

While still in the recovery room, many surgeons order an icing machine for placement on the shoulder. These devices help reduce swelling and pain. Typically, the patient is instructed to continue using the device or ice packs after discharge. Other key elements of a shoulder replacement recovery include:

  • As soon as the patient regains movement in the hand, it is helpful to begin exercising. This is normally just making a fist with the hand on the arm on which surgery was performed. The patient will likely be instructed to hold the fist for five seconds before releasing and to repeat the action frequently. This exercise can help keep the blood in that arm circulating and can reduce bruising.
  • Most patients wear a sling for four to six weeks following surgery. It should definitely be worn in crowds or when the patient is mobile, such as climbing stairs. It may be possible to relax the sling while performing sedentary activities, such as watching television.
  • During the first six weeks, most patients are told to refrain from driving. It normally takes this long to regain adequate range of movement in the shoulder to perform many activities of daily living. Few patients are able to return to work within the first 3-4 weeks, and those with more strenuous occupations may require eight months. As a rule, patients may use the arm for routine activities, such as writing or eating, but should not lift with the arm or make sudden movements with it for six weeks.

As for your hospital stay, most patients are in the hospital for two days following the surgery, and during this time, they usually see a physical therapist once or twice a day. The physician may order a patient to begin exercises as soon as the day following surgery. Exercises are designed to strengthen the arm as well as keep it flexible. The precise exercises will depend on the patient’s age, physical ability, and health, but as a rule, they are not load-bearing movements.

The surgeon will probably want to see the patient 7-14 days after shoulder replacement surgery. At this visit, the sutures are normally removed. Until that appointment, the patient should keep the incision clean and dry as possible. Once the wound is sealed and dry without any drainage, getting it wet, but avoiding scrubbing, is permitted.

Shoulder replacement surgery has an excellent success rate for resolving pain and improving functionality. Often, the patient can resume many activities, including low impact sports. Patients who pick the right surgeon and follow their therapy plans typically reap the greatest benefits.

I hope that helps you learn more about the recovery from shoulder replacement.

Until next time,


About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

Orthopedic Surgery - What Is Orthopedic Surgery? says on March 28th, 2011 at 7:39 pm

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