Understanding a Reverse Shoulder Replacement

Understanding a Reverse Shoulder Replacement

Each year, surgeons perform more than 50,000 shoulder replacements in the United States. Reverse shoulder replacement is a procedure specifically designed for patients who have shoulder arthritis and a large tear in the rotator cuff, which prevents them from being candidates for a traditional shoulder replacement.  

Board-certified orthopedic shoulder and sports medicine surgeon Matthew Pifer, MD, provides the latest advances in orthopedic surgery to the Santa Barbara, California community. Dr. Pifer treats a full spectrum of shoulder conditions, including shoulder instability, tendinitis, and impingement. 

If you have combined shoulder arthritis and a rotator cuff tear, you may be a candidate for reverse shoulder replacement. Here’s what you need to know.

Traditional shoulder replacement

The shoulder is a very mobile ball-and-socket joint. The tendons and muscles that keep the ball of the upper arm in the socket are known as the rotator cuff. In a traditional shoulder replacement, the ball and socket are replaced with artificial parts to relieve pain and restore shoulder function. This relies on the support of the rotator cuff to keep things in place. 

When you have arthritic damage to the shoulder joint, along with a large tear in the rotator cuff, a traditional shoulder replacement may not restore proper function. Fortunately, a reverse shoulder replacement gives individuals who are not suitable candidates for a traditional shoulder replacement an option for restoring shoulder function and relieving pain. 

Reverse shoulder replacement

In a reverse shoulder replacement, Dr. Pifer removes the damaged portions of the joint and replaces the ball and socket with artificial parts in the reverse position. This means that the socket goes on the upper arm bone and the ball is attached to the shoulder bone. 

Your shoulder muscles replace the rotator cuff to stabilize the joint. Screws on the socket side hold the reverse prosthesis in the bone of the shoulder blade.

When is a reverse shoulder replacement warranted?

A reverse shoulder replacement is appropriate when there is arthritic damage to the shoulder joint as well as a tear in the rotator cuff. A reverse shoulder replacement provides pain relief when a traditional shoulder replacement is not an appropriate option. 

While reverse shoulder replacement cannot completely restore shoulder function loss due to arthritis, it greatly improves shoulder mobility. Additionally, a reverse shoulder replacement is warranted when the rotator cuff is torn off. 

What can I expect from reverse shoulder replacement?

Many people with shoulder arthritis have chronic pain and limited range of shoulder motion. A reverse total shoulder replacement provides significant pain relief. After reverse shoulder replacement, most patients have improved shoulder motion in all directions. 

To learn if reverse shoulder replacement is an option for you, call our office or book online to schedule a consultation with Dr. Pifer. 

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