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What Are the Risks of Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Undergoing any surgical procedure comes with potential risks and complications. If you’re considering a shoulder replacement, here are a few things to know.

Shoulder replacement surgery has been around for years. Many people who suffer from shoulder pain or arthritis find relief and restored mobility through shoulder replacement. However, every surgical procedure can have risks and complications. Your individual results will depend on your personal circumstances, and recovery takes time.

There are many potential problems associated with shoulder replacement surgery. The following list is not intended to be all-encompassing, but highlights some of the complications that can occur. Each of the following reactions or complications can occur during or after surgery and may require medical attention (such as further surgery) and/or implant removal.

Reaction to anesthesia

Your anesthesiologist is a specialist in giving the medications that will help relax you and manage your pain during and after surgery. You will meet with your anesthesiologist before your hospital admission or surgical procedure to determine the type of anesthetic that is most appropriate for you. Strictly follow your doctor’s guidelines regarding food and drink before surgery. The more common side effects related to anesthesia include nausea, vomiting, and headaches (all of which can usually be relieved with medication).


Surgical incision sites and/or bone and tissue around the shoulder implants can become infected, which can delay recovery and even require additional surgery to remove and/or replace the implants. Talk to your surgeon about the potential risks and complications of infection. After your shoulder replacement, your doctor may require you to take preventive antibiotics before dental or surgical procedures that could allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. Before any procedure, speak with your surgeon and your dentist to see if you need preventive antibiotics

Damage to nearby blood vessels, bones or nerves

 To help minimize damage that may occur to blood vessels, bones and nerves in and around the incision, surgeons use precision tools, guides and highly refined surgical techniques. Nerve damage, although rare, can cause irritation, pain, and loss of sensation or function following your surgery.

Persistent pain

There is no guarantee that shoulder replacement will make you pain-free.

Loosening, wear or breakage of the artificial shoulder

The goal of shoulder replacement is to reduce pain and restore function. However, shoulder implants can loosen, parts can wear and rarely, a device does break. Such occurrences are typically accompanied by pain and/or loss of function, and may require additional surgery.

Other risks

  • Removal and/or replacement of the device system or its components may be necessary at some point in the future due to general wearing out (wear).
  • Dislocation or the joints slipping apart can occur.
  • Rotator cuff tearing can occur.
  • Implants can loosen over time or, less commonly, with a specific injury.


When shoulder replacement surgery is not appropriate

Consult your doctor but, given the risks, they may decide that shoulder replacement surgery is not appropriate if:

  • You have an infection or a history of infection
  • You don't have enough bone or the bone is not strong enough to support your new shoulder
  • You have injured nerves in your shoulder area
  • You have injured or nonfunctional shoulder muscles
  • Your shoulder is severely unstable
  • Your bones are not fully grown or developed
  • You have noticeable bone loss or a severe decrease in bone mass (osteoporosis)
  • Your shoulder joint has been previously fused and is stable, functional, and painless
  • You have active/history of skin lesions (because of increased risk of infection)
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This article was reviewed by Dr. John Sperling paid consultant of Zimmer Biomet

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