• Bryan Morrow

Four Things To Expect After Shoulder Replacement Surgery


Man with Shoulder Pain or Shoulder Surgery

Shoulder replacement (arthroplasty) is a major surgery in which all or part of the shoulder joint is replaced. This surgery is only done when other conservative treatments no longer provide pain relief or when severe pain limits your ability to use your shoulder. It can address pain and improve the use of your shoulder, but the recovery time is significant. It also requires some work to get the full benefit of the surgery.


If you or someone you know needs shoulder replacement surgery, knowing what to expect can help you have a better outcome.


Here are four things to know:


1. Managing pain after surgery.

You can expect some pain after shoulder replacement or any major surgery. Your pain will decrease as you heal. Most people report only trace to mild pain after they have fully recovered and rehabilitated from shoulder replacement surgery. This is a great improvement from the pain that you likely experienced before surgery.


Work with your physical therapist to understand positions and exercises that reduce pain and help you heal. Work with your surgeon and pharmacist to understand the dosing of pain medications after surgery. It is important to have a plan to wean off opioid medications in a timely manner.


Research shows that taking prescribed opioids before surgery leads to worse pain management after surgery. Consider weaning off these medicines prior to surgery with the supervision of your health care team. This can help with your pain management after surgery.


2. An initial need for help and assistance.

You can expect to be in a sling for weeks. You will not be able to use your arm for anything except prescribed exercises. Your PT will teach you specific exercises to promote healing.

Consider having ready-to-eat meals that are easy to prepare. You may want to set things up at home that you need regularly at an easy-to-reach level. Button-up shirts are easiest to wear while you cannot lift your arm.


Let your friends or family know that you are having major surgery, so they can support you while you recover.


3. Difficulty sleeping.

Initially, sleep may be difficult after surgery, but will improve with good habits. Good sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene include:


  • Avoiding large meals and caffeine before bedtime.

  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol.

  • Avoiding nicotine.

  • Removing electronic devices from the bedroom.

  • Having a regular set bedtime.

  • Finding a well-supported position will also be important.


Talk with your PT about positions to keep your shoulder protected while you sleep.