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Life after total shoulder-replacement surgery

If you or someone you love has done serious damage to his or her shoulder, a total shoulder replacement may be necessary.

A total shoulder replacement is major surgery that can keep you or your loved one in the hospital for several days, in addition to requiring weeks or months of physical therapy to fully recover.

If you’re preparing for shoulder-replacement surgery, it helps to know what to expect.

After surgery
When you have your surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for two to five days to recover. The time will depend on how well you progress and whether you experience any complications from the surgery.

During this time, you will experience swelling and pain in your shoulder joint. Your physician will prescribe pain medication to help make you comfortable and ice to reduce the swelling. Your arm will be in a brace after surgery to keep you from moving. However, you will likely begin physical therapy during your hospital stay.

Coming home

Post-surgery, you will have very limited movement in your arm.

As you prepared for surgery, you may have arranged to have a family member or close friend help afterward if you live alone or if your spouse is unable to help you.

If not, it may be best to book a short stay at a rehabilitation center until you can do more things on your own.

In fact, it may be several weeks before you can lift much of anything. Consider how you might rearrange items in your home to make life easier as you recover. For example, think about your daily routine and set items on your bathroom sink so they are easily reachable, rather than tucked away in drawers.

Consider all the activities that require two hands and, if someone isn’t available to help, develop an alternative or find a way you can accomplish the task single-handed.

Physical therapy

Generally, you will continue to have physical therapy throughout your recovery. In addition to therapy sessions with a professional, you’ll likely be assigned exercises to do at home between sessions.

As you do these, remember not to push yourself too hard. Recognize that recovery takes time and rushing the process could result in a subsequent injury.

Physical therapy will play a vital role in recovery by limiting pain and improving the function of your new joint. Most likely, your physical therapist will teach you exercises such as:

●    Range of motion, to keep your elbow and wrist joints from becoming stiff while your shoulder is in a sling and to gradually increase how much you can move your shoulder joint

●    Strengthening, after your shoulder begins to heal properly, to help you get back to a standard level of functioning

●    Functional training to help your shoulder relearn everyday movements, such as reaching to get dressed or fastening your seatbelt

●    Job- or sport-specific training that is personalized for the tasks you will need or want to perform in getting back to your routine

As you do your physical therapy and home exercises, be sure to follow your therapist’s directions carefully. Do not try to perform tasks or motions that your therapist warned you not to. They may work you harder during your sessions, but they are trained professionals who know exactly when to stop.

Long-term recovery

It may be six weeks or more until you get back to your regular routine. Even after your physical therapy is over, you will want to continue exercising and strengthening your shoulder on your own. You can expect to have follow-up visits with your therapist or doctor for up to a year after surgery.

With successful surgery and recovery, you should be able to do the same activities you always have.

Doing so may take time, but your physical therapist can help you regain full range of motion and optimal strength in your new joint. Whether you want to get back out on the golf course or keep up with your grandkids, shoulder-replacement surgery shouldn’t keep you down forever.

Amanda Tamashima
Director of Nursing
Diakon Senior Living Ohesson

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