— Not an actual patient/physician

Recovering from Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Our expectations can play a big role in the actual outcome after shoulder surgery. In this article, Dr. Sperling shares advice he gives his patients to help them realistically prepare for what’s to come.

It can be helpful to have a good idea about what to expect during recovery from shoulder replacement surgery. In the past, shoulder replacement surgery was associated with significant periods of pain after surgery. Thankfully, as implants and instruments have evolved, and doctors have learned more about post-operative therapy and innovative pain relieving approaches, the recovery period isn’t what it used to be.   

Shoulder replacements are occurring at a faster rate than ever before.1 On top of this growth, it’s my experience that many patients who would benefit from a shoulder replacement haven’t had the surgery because they don’t fully understand the benefits and/or are afraid of the recovery. This is especially true for patients who may have had a previous shoulder surgery like a rotator cuff repair, which is a completely different surgery and recovery. 

Shoulder replacements are performed on patients of various ages as well as varied indications, from fracture to arthritis. Shoulder replacement surgery is considered, for most patients, when the pain they’re experiencing significantly interferes with the quality of their lives. Many patients have difficulty performing their usual activities. What can be most disabling about shoulder arthritis is that the pain frequently occurs at night. One of the most common complaints we hear is that patients have difficulty sleeping due to their shoulder pain.

With most surgical procedures, there are possible risks and complications. Click here to read about the risks associated with shoulder replacement surgery. Also discuss these with your doctor.

As with many things in life, our expectations can play a role in the outcome of our experience. In the case of shoulder replacement, our expectations regarding the outcome of the surgery, realistic or not, is a common cause of dissatisfaction. So, it’s important to have a thorough and realistic understanding of what to expect after shoulder replacement surgery, both in regard to recovery as well as long term results. Be sure to talk to your doctor about specific expectations for your particular condition.

General expectations after shoulder replacement surgery

One of the key differences between the shoulder and other joints is the tremendous range of motion that we have in our shoulder joint. Therefore, the specific physical therapy prescribed by your surgeon will be very important. But, there are many variables to consider when determining the specific physical therapy for a patient including the condition of their bone and soft tissue. In addition, there’s significant variability among surgeons in regard to their preferences. 

On average, many patients find shoulder replacement surgery easier to recover from than other shoulder procedures, like rotator cuff repair or fracture fixation. Many patients haven’t had previous shoulder surgery of any kind to help them grasp the difference. There’s a tendency, especially with shoulder surgery, to compare your post-operative therapy to someone else’s who underwent shoulder surgery. However, this can be counterproductive since every patient has differences and many surgeons have different protocols. In addition, not only do patients vary in their pain and motion after surgery, but they also may notice a difference in their own experience… especially if they’ve had the procedure done before on the opposite shoulder. There may be ups and downs after surgery, the key is to look at the overall weekly trend in regard to your recovery. 

Many patients feel tired after surgery and have increased fatigue. This should improve steadily. If not, it is important to touch base with your primary care doctor.

Perhaps the most challenging part of recovery from shoulder replacement surgery is in regard to sleeping. Some patients prefer to sleep in bed while others prefer a recliner chair.

There’s also variability in the type of sling used after shoulder replacement. It’s important to ask your surgeon how long you will be wearing it and the way they prefer for you to safely bathe after surgery.  Moreover, it’s important to ask your surgeon what activity is allowed when you’re in the sling. You may also want to talk to the nursing staff before you leave the hospital about how to put your sling on over, or under, your clothes as directed. Also, talk to your doctor to see if there are any permanent activity restrictions following your shoulder replacement surgery.

The pain in the shoulder should gradually decrease after surgery. Interestingly, there are some patients that have no pain after recovery from shoulder replacement surgery, and some who continue to have some level of pain. Therefore, again, the course of recovery may vary, but you should be able to see steady improvement, as long as there are no complications.

Please let us know how useful this article was to you

Thank you for rating this article.

  1. Padegimas, E., et al. (2015). Future patient demand for shoulder arthroplasty by younger patients: National Projections. Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research. 473: 1860-1867. 

Here's more you can do

Share Your Story

People like you need to hear that they're not alone. Your story can make a difference in their life.
I Want to Share My Story

Be Informed. Be Prepared!

Sign up for personalized article recommendations in your email.
Get Updates

About Us

Learn more about who we are and our mission of helping patients find balance in their lives.
About Us

Find a Doctor

Search by speciality, location and more. Find the right provider for you.
Find a Doctor