Understanding Shoulder Surgery

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Shoulder surgery encompasses various procedures, ranging from minimally invasive arthroscopy to extensive open surgeries. Furthermore, advances in materials, imaging, and surgical instruments, such as biodegradable implants, MRI, and improved biomechanical understanding, continue to improve the field of shoulder surgery.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder is a complex and highly mobile joint that connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle). The shoulder's anatomy allows for a wide range of motion, making it one of the most flexible joints in the human body. The main components of the shoulder include:

  • Glenohumeral Joint – The primary joint of the shoulder, where the rounded head of the humerus articulates with the shallow socket of the scapula. It is a ball-and-socket joint that provides the majority of the shoulder's range of motion.
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint – This connects the acromion process of the scapula to the clavicle. It plays a crucial role in shoulder stability and movement.
  • Sternoclavicular (SC) Joint – This connects the sternum to the clavicle and is vital for overall shoulder function, aiding in the elevation and depression of the shoulder.
  • Rotator Cuff Muscles – This comprises four muscles and is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint and facilitating various movements.
  • Labrum – This is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid (shoulder socket), providing stability and acting as a cushion.

Common Shoulder Conditions and Injuries

  • Rotator Cuff Tears – This is characterized by tendon damage causing weakness, pain and limited motion.
  • Frozen Shoulder – This is characterized by the gradual thickening and tightening of the shoulder joint capsule, causing stiffness and pain.
  • Shoulder Fractures – This refers to bone breakage from trauma, causing pain, swelling, limited arm movement accompanied by deformity.
  • Shoulder Arthritis – This is characterized by degenerative changes, causing pain, stiffness and limited motion.
  • Shoulder Bursitis – This refers to the inflammation of the shoulder's bursa, which disrupts smooth joint movement and causes persistent pain, swelling, tenderness, and reduced range of motion.
  • SLAP Tears – This involves labrum damage, causing pain during overhead movements or heavy lifting, with catching or popping sensations.

Types of Shoulder Surgeries

  • Rotator Cuff Repairs – This procedure aims to repair torn shoulder tendons by re-attaching them to the humerus head. Utilizes open surgery or arthroscopy based on tear extent. This is indicated for substantial rotator cuff tears unresponsive to conservative treatments.
  • SLAP Repair Surgery – This is a minimally invasive arthroscopic technique that repairs the injured area with tiny surgical instruments and a small camera. Laparoscopic surgery aims to restore the torn labrum to the shoulder socket's rim.
  • Repair of Shoulder Fractures – This uses hardware (plates, screws, or pins) to secure bones, addressing soft tissues and bone grafting if needed. Severe fractures may require shoulder joint replacement.
  • Shoulder Replacement – This is a surgical procedure designed to relieve pain and restore function in a damaged or arthritic shoulder joint by replacing damaged parts with artificial components.
  • Arthroscopy – This is a minimally invasive technique that uses a small camera through tiny incisions to visualize and treat shoulder conditions like rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, and recurrent dislocation.

Pre-Surgical Evaluation and Preparation

Before surgery, patients usually undergo tests like x-rays, CT scans, MRI, bloodwork, and electrocardiograms. Precautions include fasting, discontinuing specific medications, and refraining from smoking and alcohol. Physiotherapy, psychological readiness, and home arrangements are integral parts of the preparation process.

Possible Risks and Complications

All surgeries carry inherent risks and potential complications that patients should be aware of:

  • Infection - Inform your surgeon if you experience a fever, notice pus in your wound, or if the wound becomes substantially red, sore, and painful.
  • Bleeding - Monitor patients for signs of excessive bleeding or hematoma formation postoperatively.
  • Blood Clot Formation - Administer prophylactic measures such as early ambulation, compression stockings.

Post-Surgical Recovery and Rehabilitation

Depending on the individual's general health, age, severity of injury, type of surgery, and adherence to post-operative care, this section features an estimated recovery timeline that one may expect:

  • Pain Management - Take prescribed pain medications and use ice packs appropriately to reduce swelling.
  • Physiotherapy - Begin a structured programme tailored to the specific shoulder injury and surgical procedure, focusing on range of motion, muscle strengthening, and shoulder stability exercises.
  • Gradual Return to Activities - Follow a phased approach to returning to daily activities, avoiding strenuous or overhead activities initially.

To enhance recovery, adopting a healthy lifestyle with a nutrient-rich diet, hydration, and avoiding harmful habits is crucial. Weight management through balanced eating and regular exercise reduces shoulder and joint stress. Ergonomic adjustments such as creating a shoulder-friendly work environment is also recommended.

Selecting a Surgeon and Healthcare Facility

Selecting an experienced shoulder surgeon and good healthcare facility is important. Find out about the surgeon's credentials, education, and area of expertise; as well as his or her affiliations with reputable medical organizations, hospitals, and positive patient reviews. A qualified surgeon combined with an accredited and reputable hospital will help to ensure a smooth and successful journey to recovery.


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Dr Yung Shing Wai, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon: With his decades of specialist experience, Dr Yung is committed to providing not only high-quality, personalized and modern orthopaedic treatments; he also shares his knowledge by reviewing and contributing informative articles to provide patients with trustworthy and up-to-date orthopaedic insights.

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