Should I get Shoulder Surgery?

X-ray image of someone with shoulder pain with redness all around the shoulder

Shoulder injuries lead to some of the more common joint surgeries along with knee, hip and back. But why? Our shoulder is a very mobile joint and is put through a lot of stress in our lifetime. So it has lots of opportunity to breakdown and require surgery due to acute and chronic injuries. However, not all pain is necessarily worth getting surgery. Lets dive into what causes these issues and when one may or may not consider surgery.

What types of shoulder surgeries are there?

There is the total shoulder or reverse total shoulder replacement. This is where they replace the entire shoulder joint secondary to degeneration and arthritis. There are rotator cuff muscle/ tendon repairs. When the tear or pain is severe enough people will lose the ability to function and one would need surgery. There is the labrum, which is a cushion inside the joint. When this structure has a tear, it needs to be stitched back together or cleaned up. Outside of those three you have other debridements, decompression and structural type surgeries depending on the injuries sustained.

The Question

The main question each individual has to answer is how does my current situation and pain impact my life? What are the things I want to do in life and how much does this pain or limitation prevent me from accomplishing those goals?

If you are an electrician and have to lift your arm overhead, but are unable to do so because of pain, then surgery may be warranted. If you work at a desk all day and can manage the shoulder pain with conservative treatment, such as exercise and medication, then maybe you don’t need surgery. 

At the end of the day, you have to answer this question for yourself. Take into consideration, the rehab time, stress from the surgery, and physical demands you are required to complete in life. Once think about those types of factors, you can determine if surgery is right for you.

It is also important to note if the injury will get worse or not. It is possible you will have a better outcome now than if you were to wait five years for the surgery. Or the injury could become so severe that the surgery they want to perform now, will no longer be an option in five years. 

Your Options

There is essentially two main pathways once you are posed with this question. Either manage it conservatively or do surgery. If you do surgery, there will be an immediate healing phase where your motion will be restricted depending on what was performed. Once this stage is complete you will be referred to physical therapy to help the shoulder reduce pain, restore motion, and rebuild strength. In some instances the shoulder will never return to its previous function but theoretically the symptoms will improve.

The conservative route is no surgery and the use of physical therapy, medication, and potentially injections. Depending on the severity of the injury, pain can improve tremendously and sometime resolve completely. An individual can be a candidate for surgery yet still develop compensations with movement that are pain free. The question, is how much risk are you at for future injury or issues due to this compensation. And is that risk worth taking in your current situation.

At the end of the day, it is up to you. Take all the information provided by the doctors and healthcare professionals and apply it to your situation. Ask questions! Assess how independent you currently are and what steps you have already tried taking to correct the problem. If possible keep surgery as a last resort but know it is always an excellent tool to get you back to doing the things you love.

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