Shoulder replacement surgery an option when golf, tennis have you down

If your golf or tennis game is on hold due to chronic shoulder pain and stiffness, you might find yourself considering joint replacement surgery. First performed in the 1950s, shoulder replacement surgery was invented to treat serious breaks in the ball or socket of the shoulder joint that could not be reset using traditional methods.

Today, the procedure is less common than knee or hip replacement, though 53,000 people receive it each year.

Beyond serious injuries, the most common reason your shoulder joint fails is advanced arthritis.

Arthritis is a common inflammatory condition that causes the joint to deteriorate. Symptoms can be managed with an anti-inflammatory drug or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, but this doesn’t completely stop deterioration.

“If you’ve tried medication and physical therapy but are not seeing results, your doctor may recommend shoulder replacement surgery,” said Dr. Hithem Rahmi, a Geisinger fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon. “It’s a consistently successful procedure that minimizes pain and can get you back to a normal life.”

The procedure

When you get a total shoulder replacement, your orthopaedic surgeon will replace the failing joint with a metal ball and stem inside of a plastic socket.

If your tendons in the rotator cuff are intact, you’ll have the standard replacement where joint placement mimics biological joints. However, some people with tissue damage may have a reverse total shoulder replacement, where the socket is attached to the bone and the ball to the shoulder bone.

“The reverse total joint replacement accesses a different muscle group and can restore full range of motion in patients with existing damage,” Rahmi said.

If you are dealing with pain but the joint’s socket is fully intact, the ball of the joint may be the source of the problem. In this case, your surgeon will recommend a procedure called a stemmed hemiarthroplasty, where they only just the ball at the end of the joint with a long-stemmed prosthetic.

Finally, there’s a resurfacing hemiarthroplasty, which is similar to a stemmed hemiarthroplasty because the socket is fully intact. But in this case, the ball is salvageable. Instead of replacing the ball, your surgeon will place a cap on the existing joint. This method is best for younger patients who want to avoid the wear and tear of a full replacement.

Recovery

Most patients are discharged from the hospital two or three days after the surgery, but that doesn’t mean recovery is on hold until you leave the hospital. Soon after surgery, your care team will begin teaching you subtle rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the joint and improve flexibility.

Once back home, you will have to wear a sling for up to four weeks while the joint heals and take part in physical therapy to continue building strength and dexterity.

“Recovery after joint replacement surgery is a long road,” Rahmi said. “It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders with for physical therapy and limiting movement.”

But, with that hard work, you will restore strength and movement in the joint within a year so you can return to the golf course or tennis court pain-free.

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This is one of a continuing series of sports medicine articles provided by Geisinger doctors.

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