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Using your shoulder after replacement surgery

Alternate Names

Joint replacement surgery - using your shoulder; Shoulder replacement surgery - after

What to Expect at Home

You have had shoulder replacement surgery to replace the bones of your shoulder joint with artificial parts. The parts include a stem made of metal and a metal ball that fits on the top of the stem. A plastic piece is used as the new surface of the shoulder blade.

Now that you are home you will need to know how to protect your shoulder as it heals.

Self-care

You will need to wear a sling for the first 6 weeks after surgery. You may want to wear the sling for extra support or protection after that. Some people also wear a shoulder immobilizer to keep the joint in place.

Rest your shoulder on a rolled up towel or small pillow when lying down. This helps prevent damage to your shoulder from the stretching of the muscles or tendons. You will need to keep doing this for 6-8 weeks after your surgery, even when wearing a sling.

Your doctor or physical therapist may teach you pendulum exercises to do at home for 4-6 weeks. To do these exercises:

  • Lean over and support your weight with your good arm on a counter or table.
  • Hang your arm that had surgery down.
  • Very carefully and slowly swing your loose arm around in circles.

Your doctor or physical therapist will also teach you safe ways to move your arm and shoulder.

  • Do not try to lift or move your shoulder without supporting it with your good arm or having someone else support it. Your doctor or therapist will tell you when it is okay to lift or move your shoulder without this support.
  • Use your other (good) arm to move the arm that had surgery. Move it only as far as your doctor or physical therapist tells you is okay.

These exercises and movements may hard but they will get easier over time. It is very important to do these as your doctor or therapist showed you. Doing these exercises will help your shoulder get better faster. They will help you be more actives after you recover. 

Activities and movements you should try to avoid are:

  • Reaching or using your shoulder a lot
  • Lifting objects heavier than a cup of coffee
  • Supporting your body weight with your hand on the side you had surgery
  • Making sudden jerking movements

Wear the sling all the time unless your doctor says you do not have to.

After 4-6 weeks, your doctor or physical therapist will show you other exercises to stretch your shoulder and gain more movement in your joint.

Returning to sports and other activities 

Ask your doctor which sports and other activities are okay for you after you recover.

Always think about how to safely use your shoulder before you move or start an activity. To protect your new shoulder:

  • Avoid activities that require doing the same movement over and over again with your shoulder, such as weight lifting.
  • Avoid "jamming" activities, such as hammering.
  • Avoid "impact-loading" sports, such as boxing.
  • Avoid any physical activities that need quick stop-start motions or twisting.
  • Do not push heavy objects.

You will probably not be able to drive for at least 4-6 weeks after surgery. You should not drive when you are taking narcotics. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when driving is okay.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • Bleeding that soaks through your dressing and does not stop when you place pressure over the area
  • Pain that does not go away when you take your pain medicine
  • Swelling in your arm
  • Redness, pain, swelling, or a yellowish discharge from the wound
  • Fever higher than 101 °F

Also call the doctor if:

  • Your hand or fingers are darker in color or feel cool to the touch.
  • Your new shoulder joint does not feel secure. It feels like it is moving around.

References

Throckmorton TW. Shoulder and elbow arthroplasty. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12thth ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 12.

Review Date: 11/15/2012
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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