Do You Need a Total Shoulder Replacement?

Originally published January 5, 2018

Last updated April 29, 2024

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The pain in your shoulder is constant, but therapy and other treatment options offer no relief. Is it time to consider a total shoulder replacement.

If you have exhausted all other options to alleviate pain in your shoulder, your doctor may suggest total shoulder replacement. This comprehensive surgery may be an effective option to relieve pain caused by rotator cuff tears, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and avascular necrosis.

There are three bones in your shoulder: your upper arm bone, shoulder blade and collarbone. When working properly, these bones are lubricated by fluid, cushioned by cartilage, and held together by muscles and tendons that let the bones glide easily against each other. Inflammation, worn cartilage, damaged bones and tears in muscles or tendons are common causes of shoulder pain.

When do you know it’s time to consider replacement surgery?

“A total shoulder replacement should be considered when nonoperative treatment measures have failed, the pain is waking up the patient at night and it is difficult to participate in normal activities of daily living,” says George F. “Rick” Hatch III, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Keck Medicine of USC and associate professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

If you have bone on bone osteoarthritis or rotator cuff tendons that are still intact, you might be a good candidate for total shoulder replacement surgery.

What symptoms may signal the need for a shoulder replacement?

Other signs that shoulder replacement might be an option for you include:

  • The inability to get dressed on your own
  • Moderate to severe pain while resting
  • Loss of motion and weakness in your shoulder
  • Continued pain even after taking anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections

What happens during a shoulder replacement procedure?

During a total shoulder replacement, your doctor will remove damaged tissue and bone surfaces and replace them with prosthetic components that are cemented securely in place.

How long is the recovery after a shoulder replacement?

“Following a total shoulder replacement, a patient is in a sling for approximately five weeks,” Hatch explains. “During this time they are in physical therapy to work on range of motion and strengthening. Approximately 10 weeks after surgery, they transition to a home therapy program designed to continue building strength and regaining motion. Most patients have regained a very good level of function about eight months after the procedure,” Hatch explains.


Heidi Tyline King
Heidi Tyline King is a former magazine editor who has written for numerous national publications.