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What to Expect After Shoulder Replacement Surgery

If you’re preparing for shoulder replacement surgery, you may be nervous about what to expect afterward. Here are a few things you can expect.

It’s important to consider what accommodations you may need after shoulder replacement surgery.  Here are a few things you can expect in the first few days and weeks after surgery.

Shoulder replacement surgery is becoming increasingly common. There’s a wide age range of patients undergoing the procedure from younger adults through seniors. The reasons for surgery vary from repairing a fracture through treating severe shoulder arthritis.

If you’ve made the decision to proceed with shoulder replacement after consultation with your surgeon, you may wonder what’s going to happen afterward. While recovery instructions vary depending on surgeon preference and the condition/treatment of your joint, here are a few common things you can expect.

5 Things to expect after shoulder replacement surgery

1. You’ll be moving ASAP.

After shoulder replacement surgery, many surgeons want their patients to be up and moving around as soon as possible. This may include sitting up in a chair or walking down the hallway. There’s wide variability on the specific physical therapy program prescribed by surgeons. Some surgeons prefer formal physical therapy at specified intervals; whereas, others have their patients do rehabilitation exercises on their own at home. In some cases, physical therapy may be delayed for a period of time. The surgeon will instruct you on specific movement and therapy based on your individual procedure and condition.

2. You’ll be given specific exercises for each stage of your rehabilitation.

The first stage of physical therapy tends to be passive motion exercises. This is when no active muscle force is used to move your shoulder. The primary goal at this stage is to work on range of motion and limit scarring. The next phase of therapy typically involves active assisted exercises. Lastly, you’ll transition to active exercises and then strengthening exercises. The timing of each phase is based on the preference of the surgeon as well as your individual circumstances.

3. You’ll likely have some pain… but you can take steps to control it.

There have been significant advances in how shoulder pain is managed after shoulder replacement surgery starting with the procedure itself and then extending into the recovery period. But, it’s normal to experience some post-operative pain. Talking with your care team before surgery can help you understand how much pain to expect, along with the typical decrease in pain that is expected after surgery. They should also inform you of any warning signs where you’d need to alert their service. 

4. You’ll be given detailed instructions from your surgeon on what to look for after surgery.

Your surgeon will provide you with information on things to look out for after surgery, including increased pain, swelling, redness, drainage from the healing incision, or fever. The surgeon will also discuss when it’s ok to resume some of your previous activities such as gardening, playing golf, etc.

5. Eventually, most patients feel better.

It’s important to understand that recovery after shoulder replacement not only varies from person to person, but can also vary from shoulder to shoulder. Therefore, the recovery process may be longer or shorter than you anticipated, especially if you’ve had a previous shoulder replacement experience. Having a realistic and open expectation about recovery is very important.

You should also understand that there are risks with any surgery. While uncommon, complications can occur during and after surgery. Some complications include, but are not limited to, infection, blood clots, implant breakage, malalignment, and premature wear, any of which can require additional surgery. Be sure to discuss these and other risks with your surgeon. You can also read more about possible risks and complications here.

No matter what stage of life you're at, it's normal to feel a little apprehensive about an upcoming joint replacement. Hopefully, this information will help you feel more prepared for surgery and optimize the results you get.

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