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What is Shoulder Joint Replacement?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Shoulder joint replacement is a surgical procedure that involves placing a metal ball and plastic socket into the humeral head, the part of the upper arm that connects the shoulder joints and muscles and influences movement. The humeral head portion of the shoulder is located near the deltoid, rotator cuff, and shoulder blade. When nonsurgical options seem ineffective, doctors sometimes recommend shoulder joint replacement as the solution to relieving pain or joint dysfunction from a current or prior injury or from arthritis. Treatment options for repairing the shoulder joint include total joint shoulder replacement, partial shoulder replacement, and reverse shoulder joint replacement.

Replacement surgery may be appropriate for those who suffer deep muscle or shoulder aches that cannot be resolved with anti-inflammatory and other over-the-counter or prescription medications. Doctors may diagnose shoulder joint replacement if the patient has discomfort that interferes with sleep or everyday tasks or stiffness and weakness in the upper arm and shoulder area. If other nonsurgical treatments like applying heat and ice, exercising, or receiving cortisone injections do little to relieve shoulder pain, it may be time to consider shoulder joint replacement surgery.

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Total shoulder joint replacement involves placing a specialized metal ball with a stem, along with a plastic socket, into the problem area within the shoulder, thereby replacing the worn ball-and-socket part of the upper arm with a new one. Patients with severe arthritis, bone spurs within the shoulder, or a worn rotator cuff generally qualify for total shoulder joint replacement. Partial replacement of the shoulder joint may be needed only if the patient has less intense pain or a minor fracture. In this case, the surgeon replaces the ball joint while leaving the socket intact. The reverse total shoulder joint replacement occurs similarly to the conventional total shoulder joint procedure because it also involves a metal ball with a socket joint. Doctors recommend reverse total shoulder joint replacement to correct a completely torn rotator cuff or an unsuccessful previous surgery.

Before most surgeries, the doctor usually requires the patient to refrain from eating or drinking the night before, and stopping any medications two weeks prior to the surgery to prevent complications. The patient then enters a hospital to be treated by the doctor and nurses under anesthesia. Following the shoulder joint procedure, the patient must follow the doctor's instructions, take medications as prescribed, rest, and participate in physical therapy to slowly restore movement to the shoulder joint.

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