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Overview of Shoulder Surgery for Arthritis

written by: Harry Sylvester • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/28/2010

Arthritis is unbearably painful when you have it. If your shoulder joint is inflamed, swollen, and stiff when doing activity, your doctor recommends undergoing shoulder surgery for arthritis. Learn how this treatment is performed along with the symptoms, risks and complications, and follow-up care.

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    Arthritis and the Shoulder Joint

    Arthritis can occur in several joints in the body such as the shoulder, spine, hips, and knees. Any joint can be severely affected. The shoulder joint is composed of the humerus and scapula. The humerus is the head of the upper arm bone, which joins the shoulder blade or shallow circular hollow in the bone called the scapula. The rotator cuff, the group of muscles and tendons, holds the head of the humerus. Articular cartilage, which is a smooth shiny white tissue, covers the humerus and socket area of the glenoid on the scapula as well. Articula cartilage enables these bones to interact with each other smoothly as the arm moves. This condition changes drastically when arthritis occurs.

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    Symptoms

    This disease can break the joint down, destroying the shoulders’ smooth surfaces. The joint becomes swollen, stiff, and inflamed. Therefore, it can lead to stiffness and pain in your shoulder while you are doing your daily activity. It even gets worse in the morning. Mild or severe pain might occur during the time such as the sensation of grinding in the shoulder. Your doctor can recommend you undergo an operative procedure.

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    Medical Diagnosis

    A series of x-rays can diagnose whether or not you need to undergo arthroscopy.

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    Treatment

    Shoulder Arthroscopy Arthroscopy, which is a shoulder surgery for arthritis, can be an effective way to treat inflammation and stiffness in addition to alleviating pain. This surgery is a minimally invasive procedure. During arthroscopy, the surgeon utilizes an arthroscope, a narrow tube with a light at the end, through a buttonhole-sized incision in the skin. This tube is connected with a video monitor, allowing the surgeon to examine the joint during this procedure.

    He or she can add other small incisions around the joint to insert instruments to repair the joint. The surgeon will then separate the inflamed synovial lining tissue and eliminate parts of degenerated cartilage. The treatment cannot heal the arthritis, but eventually might alleviate pain and stiffness. Incision is less than 0.25 inch or 7 millimeters.

    During the procedure, you may have regional anesthesia before the surgery that anesthetizes your shoulder and arm. You can get general anesthesia, which makes you feel unconscious and painless. The surgeon will stitch your incisions and cover them with a bandage after surgery. Click on image to enlarge.

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    Risks and Complications

    Despite being rare, risks and complications that may occur after an arthroscopic procedure include:

    • Blood clots
    • Shoulder stiffness
    • Shoulder instability
    • Infection
    • Swelling
    • Damage of nerves, blood vessels, and the joint’s structures
    • Failure of the surgical procedure to allay the pain
    • High fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
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    Follow-up Care

    The surgery may take between 30 minutes and two hours. Recovery time usually requires one to six months. You must consume antibiotics to allay inflammation and avoid infection. In addition, it is recommended using crutches or slings at home to prevent pain and maintain the joint. You need to develop the normal function of your shoulder joint by doing light and moderate physical activity prescribed by your doctor. Eventually, you can do rotational pendulum exercises.

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    References

    MayoClinic.com: Arthroscopy - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arthroscopy/MY00130

    MedlinePlus: Shoulder Arthroscopy - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007206.htm

    The Southern California Orthopedic Institute: Shoulder Arthritis - http://www.scoi.com/sholarth.htm

    University of California, San Francisco: Department of Orthopaedic Surgery - http://orthosurg.ucsf.edu/patient-care/sports_medicine/shoulder.html

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.