Types of Shoulder Surgery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
woman talking about her shoulder with a physical therapist in his office

Shoulder surgery is a common orthopedic procedure that’s used to treat a variety of shoulder conditions, including shoulder arthritis and rotator cuff tears. Surgery is not usually the first treatment option for shoulder injuries or pain. Instead, surgical repair may be considered if physical therapy, medication, and less invasive medical procedures haven’t sufficiently relieved pain or improved motion. Understanding the different types of shoulder surgery will help you discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.

Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery vs. Open Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery, or arthroscopy, is surgery performed through small incisions using a specialized tool called an arthroscope. An arthroscope includes a camera, so the surgeon can see inside the joint area without creating a large incision. Instead, the surgeon makes a few small cuts and inserts the arthroscope and surgical tools via these cuts. The camera transmits pictures of the inside of your joint onto a screen so the surgical team can assess and repair problems within the shoulder joint.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, shoulder arthroscopy has been performed since the 1970s. Common arthroscopic shoulder surgeries include:

  • Rotator cuff repair 
  • Shoulder stabilization surgery (to treat recurrent shoulder dislocation
  • Shoulder resurfacing (a treatment for arthritis
  • Minimally invasive shoulder replacement

Open shoulder surgeries involve a larger incision. During open surgery, the surgeon views the shoulder joint directly, instead of on a screen. Recovery from open surgery typically takes longer than recovery from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

When possible, physicians and patients usually prefer arthroscopic shoulder surgery. However, if the injury or necessary repair is extensive, open shoulder surgery may be the best option.

Rotator Cuff Surgery 

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that encircle the shoulder joint and facilitate movement. A tear in one or more of the tendons can limit movement and cause pain. Rotator cuff injuries can result from injury or overuse.

Minor rotator cuff tears do not usually require surgery. Rotator cuff surgery may be indicated if:

  • Several months of physical therapy haven’t significantly improved symptoms.
  • You have a complete rotator cuff tear.
  • You have a large tear.
  • The tear was caused by a recent injury.
  • Your tear has caused significant weakness and loss of function.

Rotator cuff surgery can be performed arthroscopically or via open surgery. Open surgery is usually used for large, complex tears.

Full recovery from rotator cuff surgery may take 4 to 6 months, but it can take longer.

Shoulder Replacement Surgery 

Shoulder replacement surgery is a treatment option for arthritis of the shoulder. In fact, osteoarthritis is the most common reason for shoulder replacement surgery. Over time, arthritis can damage the cartilage in the shoulder joint, resulting in bone grinding on bone.

In shoulder replacement surgery, the “ball” on the end of the upper arm bone (humerus) is removed and replaced with an artificial stem and metal ball. During a total shoulder replacement, the “socket” part of your shoulder blade is also replaced with smooth plastic. (If only the ball, and not the socket, is replaced, the procedure is considered a partial shoulder replacement.)

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, approximately 53,000 people in the United States undergo shoulder replacement surgery each year. Full recovery usually takes 4 to 6 months or longer.

Your healthcare provider can help you understand available shoulder surgery options and estimated recovery time for each.

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  1. Shoulder Arthroscopy. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007206.htm
  2. Shoulder Arthroscopy. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/shoulder-arthroscopy/
  3. Rotator Cuff Repair. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007207.htm
  4. Rotator Cuff Tears: Surgical Treatment Options. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/rotator-cuff-tears-surgical-treatment-options/
  5. Shoulder Joint Replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/shoulder-joint-replacement/
  6. Shoulder Replacement. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007387.htm
  7. Shoulder Instability Surgery. Duke Health. https://www.dukehealth.org/treatments/orthopaedics/shoulder-dislocation-and-instability
  8. Shoulder Surgery – Discharge. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000179.htm

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 4
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