Why shoulder replacement surgery is on the increase

26 June 2017

Shoulder joint replacement was first carried out in the United Stated back in the 1950s, but has never been as common as hip or knee replacements.

However, in the past few years techniques have progressed and the procedure is becoming much more common.

Spire Parkway Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr Duncan Learmonth, from the Birmingham Knee and Shoulder Clinic explains what shoulder replacement surgery entails and how it has developed in recent years.

Q: What is a shoulder replacement?

A: The shoulder is a ‘ball and socket’ joint like the hip joint– the ‘ball’ at the end of your upper arm bone fitting into a ‘socket’ in the shoulder blade. A replacement means a metal ball is fitted to your upper arm and a plastic cup-like device inside the socket. This is called an anatomic shoulder replacement because it reproduces the normal shoulder anatomy but it does rely on having intact tendons around the shoulder to move the joint.

Shoulder replacement 

Above: Anatomic shoulder replacement

Q: Why has it taken so long for shoulder replacements to become a bigger part of orthopaedic surgery?

A: Osteoarthritis of the shoulder is far less common than in the hip or the knee as it is not a weight bearing joint.  Over the last twenty years we have a better understanding of shoulder disease and pathology and this has led more successful shoulder replacement surgery that we can offer patients.

Q: How have the surgery techniques and equipment progressed over the past ten years?

A: Techniques and instruments have improved to provide good exposure of the socket for accurate placement of the prosthesis. The socket and ball designs have improved to reflect patients’ variable anatomy.

Q: What would make you consider a shoulder replacement?  

A: One of the most common reasons why people need shoulder replacement surgery is osteoarthritis, a condition that makes joints stiff and painful, and impairs movement. However a traumatic injury such as a fracture of the shoulder joint may require a shoulder replacement.

Q: What is a Reverse Shoulder Replacement?

A: Standard shoulder replacement is an anatomic shoulder replacement as mentioned above. A reverse shoulder replacement puts the ball where the socket should be and the socket where the ball should be. This allows the shoulder joint to be moved by a single muscle the deltoid muscle.

The reverse shoulder replacement is used for patients who have a painful shoulder and limited movement due to badly torn rotator cuff tendons or an arthritic shoulder with torn tendons.

Q: Is there a ‘typical’ age of a patient needing a replacement or is it something that covers all age groups?

A: The common age group of patients who have shoulder replacements are mid-sixties to mid-seventies. However there are patients in all age groups who may benefit from shoulder replacement when other treatment options have failed.

Q: What sort of results can patients expect after surgery?

A: Most patients can expect excellent pain relief and improved range of movement of their shoulder. Some patients may achieve almost full movement but the final movement also depends on the range of movement patients have prior to surgery.

Q: How long would you expect a shoulder replacement to last – is it on a par with hip or knee replacements?

A: Most studies record 90 to 95% of shoulder replacements lasting 10 years so they are approaching the same outcomes as hip and knee replacements.

About Birmingham Knee and Shoulder Clinic

Mr Duncan Learmonth is one of three consultants who founded The Birmingham Knee and Shoulder Clinic in Birmingham. The Birmingham Knee and Shoulder Clinic is a private clinic providing a comprehensive service including investigations, treatment and rehabilitation.

They are happy to see patients with the most severe and painful conditions of both the knee and shoulder, including a varying degree of sports injuries.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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