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What is shoulder surgery?

3D shoulder illustration with pain

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.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 30, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62.
  2. Rotator Cuff Tears. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  3. Rotator Cuff Tears: Surgery and Exercise. Cleveland Clinic.
  4. Rotator Cuff Tears: Surgical Treatment Options. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  5. Shoulder Pain and Problems. BetterMedicine.
  6. Shoulder Problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
  7. Shoulder Surgery. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  8. Shoulder Surgery. HealthGrades.

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