The Challenges of Recovering from Shoulder Replacement

Ron, the long-time moderator of the Forums on Spine-health, can often speak from experience when he interacts with users: He has had 7 spinal procedures, plus joint replacement surgeries for both hips and both shoulders.

When Ron speaks about his surgeries, he’s quick to point out that the recovery process for shoulder replacement was by far the most challenging. Read about Ron’s experience with shoulder replacement surgery, which ultimately led to success after a lot of hard work and dedication.

Shoulder-Arthro Total shoulder replacement involves replacing the ball-and-socket parts of the joint with prosthetic components. Read more: Total Shoulder Replacement Surgical Procedure

In 2002, I started to notice some pain in my right arm. After a number of visits to an orthopedic surgeon, we went for a bone scan, which identified arthritis in both of my shoulder and hip joints. I was told that the onset of this osteoarthritis was brought on by my spinal surgeries—I have had 7 spinal surgeries, the first of which was in 1978.

See What Is Shoulder Osteoarthritis (Glenohumeral Arthritis)?

At that time, I had no idea what the word osteoarthritis meant. I thought arthritis was for old people and that their fingers looked crooked and bent.

Read more about Degenerative Arthritis

Nonsurgical treatments help for a while

The symptoms progressed, and I was having problems shaking hands with people. I used to dread having to shake someone’s hand, because the pain radiated from my elbow up into my shoulder.

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In 2006, the specialists started to use cortisone injections to help with my pain. The first injection was great; I was almost pain-free for 2 years. But slowly, that same pain started to come back—and with more force.

See What to Know Before Getting a Cortisone Injection

After more rounds of cortisone injections and some X-rays, they found that my arthritis had damaged my shoulder joints to the point that the cartilage was gone and it was just bone-on-bone contact in the joint. The surgeon indicated that the only solution was total shoulder replacement.

Read More: Total Shoulder Replacement Surgery

The hard work of shoulder replacement recovery

I went to see a shoulder specialist, who explained everything in detail: how he was going to do the surgery, what to expect the first week, and that I was in for a long haul for the recovery. No truer words were spoken.

Read more: Preparing for Shoulder Replacement Surgeries

I had the first shoulder replaced in April 2010. The surgery went well. I started right away with physical therapy, but fortunately I didn’t feel the pain because of the pain medication. I was home in 3 days.

See Managing the Pain of Joint Replacement

Then it all began to get very difficult. Let me just say, recovery from shoulder surgery is a long, painful road and it requires commitment and dedication.

I had to exercise my new shoulder 3 times a day for 15 minutes. I couldn’t move my arm, but it had to be lifted up as part of the exercises, so I had to use a pulley system that would move up arm up and down for me. That and the other specific arm movements I had to do every day caused excruciating pain—more than I had felt before. I did these painful exercises every single day and I hated it!

Read more: Total Shoulder Replacement Risks and Complications

It wasn’t until after the shoulder replacements that I never realized how much you depend on your shoulders. I was like an infant: I could not shower myself, dress myself, and basically I depended on my wife for just about everything.

I started physical therapy 3 weeks after surgery. That included land and aqua therapy that lasted for 9 months! After the 6-month period, I started to feel somewhat better. After being released from physical therapy, I still continued home therapy 3 times a day for 15 minutes a day and aqua therapy 3 times a week. This lasted for another 8 months.

Months of hard work lead to success

Considering I was 60 years old at the time and that I had had 7 previous spinal surgeries, the doctors and therapists told me to expect about an 80% return of my range of motion in my shoulders after the replacements. But after 18 months of hard work, I had achieved almost 98% range of motion! More than most shoulder patients could ever hope for.

Looking back, I am glad I did all that work and dealt with the pain. If I hadn't, I know that my shoulders would not be as good as they are today!

Learn more

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