Is your hard working shoulder causing you pain? There’s a fix

One of the hardest working joints in the body is the shoulder. From picking up the kids and groceries, to driving the car or making that perfect shot, the shoulders do impressive work… at least until the wear and tear of life or an injury limit your movement or make it painful.

That’s when an orthopedic specialist can help. Orthopedics is the medical specialty that takes care of the musculoskeletal system — the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves that help you move.

When it comes to the shoulder, we’ve made some great strides in helping keep you and the people you care about mobile.

Non-surgical treatment for shoulder problems include:

  • Cortisone injections
  • Medication
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy

Surgical treatments include:

Rotator cuff repair surgery: We repair damage to your rotator cuff, a group of four muscles that surround your shoulder joint. Rotator cuff injuries can happen after a fall. The surgical approach varies depending on the extent of the injuries.

One approach that has good success with patients is called arthroscopically assisted mini-open rotator cuff repair. With this approach, we start with two or three small incisions and insert a camera and tools (the arthroscopically assisted part) to make any repairs needed to the tissues in the joint. For example, we might take care of any bone spurs that may have developed. Then we’ll make an incision a little more than an inch long to access and reattach tendons as needed.

Studies have found this approach offers patients good range of motion and comparable discomfort during recovery compared to other rotator cuff repair surgery techniques, but arthroscopically assisted mini-open rotator cuff repair is more cost effective overall.

Shoulder replacement surgery: With shoulder replacement surgery, your shoulder joint bones are replaced with artificial ball-and-socket implants. This can relieve joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis or severe fractures. About 50,000 people have replacement surgery every year.

Shoulder replacement surgeries have been done for years, but about a year ago we received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a new technique for replacing parts of the ball and socket.

In the past, a new ball was attached to the end of the bone by inserting a metal stem into the end of the upper arm bone (called the humerus). The stem could be up to eight inches long. This set the standard for shoulder replacement for years, but the approach had its shortcomings. One was that the bone could break around the stem.

In 2004, I started to develop a new shoulder replacement device that wouldn’t need a stem. The development work resulted in a device that’s only about the size of a half golf ball. It’s implanted at the end of the humerus and, with time, the bone grows around the device.

About a year ago, after extensive review, we received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin implanting this device in patients as part of their shoulder replacements.

What makes this approach, called stemless shoulder arthroplasty, beneficial for patients is that we eliminate potential problems associated with the stem, and the surgery results in less blood loss, less pain and a shorter recovery time. All positives for the patient. And that’s the bottom line for all medical procedures — what’s best for the patient.

If you or someone you care about is considering orthopedic surgery, ask questions. A good provider will be happy to explain planned procedures. If you like, get a second opinion. Now you know a bit more about how we can help keep your shoulders pushing, pulling and lifting for years to come.

Meet the Author

Robert Sean Churchill, MD is an orthopedic surgeon at Aurora Advanced Healthcare in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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