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What Should I Expect from Shoulder Surgery?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated May 17, 2024
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Orthopedic surgeons often recommend shoulder surgery for chronic shoulder pain and fractures after medication and physical therapy have failed. Patients can expect to undergo rehabilitation and possibly still need medication after the surgery. When performed correctly by surgeons, shoulder surgery can greatly improve the quality of a person’s life and allow them to do physical activities.

Before a shoulder surgery operation, the anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia. Patients have regional or general anesthetic depending on the type of anesthesia agreed to by the surgeon and the patient prior to the surgery. Regional anesthesia involves getting a long-acting numbing agent and pain medication injected into the area being operated on just before the surgery. General anesthesia is when the patient gets medication immediately before surgery that puts the person in a deep sleep so that the patient does not feel any pain.

During the procedure, the orthopedic surgeon will make an incision into the shoulder and insert a small scope with a light on it to see the images on a camera in the operating room. At this time, the person should also expect that the doctor will repair torn ligaments, muscles and fractured bones. The surgeon will also irrigate inflamed cartilage and joints, allowing these areas to move smoothly and heal from infections. The doctor will stitch the area closed and wrap a sterile dressing around the shoulder. When the surgery is over, a nurse will take the patient to another room and monitor the patient while in recovery.

When the patient wakes up from the operation, the doctor will discuss the results of the shoulder surgery with him or her. The patient can also expect from shoulder surgery that he will need someone to drive him home from the hospital. Most physicians prescribe patients who have surgery enough pain medication to last at least a week and instruct them to clean the surgical area daily to prevent infection. Patients are advised to see their treating doctor about a week after the surgery for a follow up visit.

Once a person has regained limited use of their shoulder, he or she will need to participate in shoulder therapy to get full use of their shoulder. Sometimes a person may experience pain or other problems during physical therapy. If the patient continues to have problems with their shoulder, the orthopedist may prescribe pain medication again or steroid injections. Depending on the complexity of the shoulder surgery, which could range from a simple muscle repair to a full rotator cuff repair, most patients can resume light duty work and activities within three to six months after surgery.

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