What is shoulder surgery?

Shoulder surgery repairs a damaged, degenerated or diseased shoulder joint. It is a treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions in your shoulder joint. These commonly include rotator cuff tears, shoulder dislocations, and shoulder separations. Shoulder surgery can potentially help restore pain-free range of motion and full function to a damaged shoulder joint.

Your shoulder joint is formed where the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle) meet. Ligaments are tissues that connect these bones within your shoulder joint. A group of four muscles surround these bones to form your rotator cuff. These muscles are attached to your bones by tendons, which are tough pieces of connective tissue. Your shoulder joint also includes layers of cartilage, joint (synovial) fluid, and a bursa sac that helps cushion your joint. 

Shoulder surgery is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having shoulder surgery. 

Types of shoulder surgery

The types of shoulder surgery procedures include:

  • Arthroplasty replaces or resurfaces a diseased joint. It involves removing arthritic or damaged surfaces of bone and replacing them with artificial material or an implant called a prosthesis. It can include a partial replacement or a total replacement of your shoulder joint. Your doctor may recommend shoulder arthroplasty for degenerative diseases of the shoulder, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some fractures of the shoulder joint may also require joint replacement.
  • Arthroscopy is surgery using an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a long, thin instrument that contains a small camera. It is inserted into the joint through an incision over or near the joint. The camera transmits pictures of the inside of your joint to a video screen viewed by your doctor while performing surgery. Your doctor may recommend arthroscopic shoulder surgery for shoulder dislocations, shoulder tendonitis, certain rotator cuff problems, soft tissue (muscle) repairs, frozen shoulder, and the repair of torn cartilage or ligaments.
  • Rotator cuff repair reattaches a torn rotator cuff. It is a treatment for a torn tendon in your shoulder joint.
  • Soft tissue repair treats damage to the shoulder muscles.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to shoulder surgery. These include:

  • Bone fracture or dislocation repair. Severe injuries may require surgical repair. These injuries include certain types of fractures of the collarbone, humerus, and shoulder dislocations.
  • Bursectomy or bursa sac repair treats a damaged bursa sac. Your bursa sac provides cushioning for your joint.

Why is shoulder surgery performed? 

Your doctor may recommend shoulder surgery to treat a damaged, degenerated or diseased shoulder joint. 

Your shoulder joint consists of your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula), and your collarbone (clavicle). Your tendons are strong pieces of connective tissue that attach muscles to the shoulder and arm bones. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Ligaments connect the bones of your shoulder joint and hold it together. A bursa sac lies between the bones and tendons in the shoulder to cushion the joint. 

The shoulder joint can be damaged by aging, disease, overuse or injury. Your doctor may only consider shoulder surgery for you if other treatment options with less risk of complications have not worked. Ask your doctor about all your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on shoulder surgery. 

Your doctor may recommend shoulder surgery to treat: 

  • Arthritis, shoulder inflammation caused by either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bursitis, inflammation of your bursa sac 
  • Cartilage conditions, such as loose or torn cartilage 
  • Fracture of the upper arm bone (humerus) or the collarbone (clavicle)  
  • Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, which is stiffness of the shoulder joint
  • Rotator cuff tears, both partial and complete tears
  • Shoulder dislocation that recurs often
  • Shoulder separation, which is a partial or complete tear some of the shoulder ligaments
  • Tendonitis, or inflammation of your tendon that is not responding to more conservative treatment