Shoulder Replacement Does Not Mean Goodbye to Sports

Shoulder replacement surgery has dramatically increased over the past few decades, today nearly 53,000 shoulder replacement surgeries are performed annually in the United States.

1. The substantial rise can be attributed to the procedure’s success rate with most patients (as high as 92%) describing their shoulder as “better,” with the majority of patients pleased with their overall daily quality of life following surgery.

2. Individuals with chronic shoulder pain from degenerative arthritis, rotator cuff tears that are not repairable, and fractures are the most common  candidates for shoulder replacement. Most often, individuals undergo a variety of conservative treatment options as a first line of pain/injury management. These include activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and steroid injections. If no successful progress has been made, an orthopedist may discuss shoulder joint replacement as an option. The surgeon will choose the most appropriate type of shoulder replacement based on the patient’s shoulder pain, including total shoulder replacement, or reverse shoulder replacement.

Recovery

The standard recovery period following shoulder replacement surgery is six months. Initially, patients are asked to wear a protective sling, but as early as one week after surgery, physical rehabilitation is introduced. In the beginning, there are restrictions regarding specific movements to ensure adequate healing time. Gradually more flexibility and strengthening is introduced while the individual is monitored by both their physical therapist and orthopedist. A standard follow-up visit to the surgeon occurs at six months post-operatively, when most patients are cleared to return to their normal daily activities. This could include their profession, gardening, housework, or recreational activities such as golf, swimming, and tennis.

Patients should gradually return to their desired activity, and report any pain or mobility issues. Multiple studies have monitored shoulder replacement patients for short- and long-term outcomes and have reported exceptional results. Various studies report between 75–90% return to their exercise of choice; specifically research indicates the highest return to swimming, fishing, golf, and tennis. Additionally, research has shown an improvement in performance post-operatively.

High demanding sports such as bowling, softball, and basketball have lower postoperative return percentages (between 20–40%) and are not encouraged in individuals with shoulder prostheses. Instead of limiting patients’ activities, shoulder replacement surgery has proven to be tremendously successful at returning individuals to their activities and  passions they were once unable to enjoy due to pain.