The Different Kinds of Shoulder Replacement and Why They are Performed

Our bodies are truly a marvel. The way every part works together to propel us and perform tasks from the mundane to the amazingly athletic is truly something to behold. Unfortunately, even the most athletic and in shape of us will sometimes fall victim to a really troubling injury. For many injuries, all you need to heal is time. A bone resetting and cast might be necessary, and unpleasant, but within months you’re fine. Not every injury works that way as you are probably aware.

Certain parts of the body are prone to serious injury and treatment is complicated. It’s not just traumatic injuries that can require drastic treatments either. Chronic conditions like arthritis can cause serious damage that require surgical intervention. Usually our major joints are the places where these issues occur. Think about the areas that give you the most trouble early in the morning if you have arthritis or you’ve suffered an accumulation of injuries. It’s usually the knees, hips, shoulders, and possibly the neck. It can be very hard living with chronic pain in these critical joints that allow us to move and support weight.

Sometimes damage is so severe that your doctor may decide surgery is the best course of treatment. When it comes to major joints, this can often come in the form of replacements. Shoulder injuries can be difficult and your doctor could recommend a shoulder replacement. Why would this surgery be recommended to you? Let’s take a look at why shoulder replacement is recommended and the different types.

Why would you need a shoulder replacement?

Shoulder replacements aren’t performed as often as knee or hip replacements, but when they are it’s for good reason. They are effective at relieving joint pain. There could be a variety of reasons that your doctor has recommended a shoulder replacement. Our shoulders are complex. They are a ball and socket joint supported by three major bones (the clavicle, humerus, and scapula) along with a myriad of tendons and ligaments. All of these parts work together to give you the full range of motion that may currently be suffering and that other people take for granted. When a part of the joint becomes damaged, it has to be replaced. Common reasons why you would need a replacement include severe fracture, and a variety of arthritis related complications. Osteoarthritis is generally the culprit in non-athletes and those who haven’t experienced a traumatic injury. Rheumatoid arthritis can also be a common cause due to excessive inflammation damaging the joint. You may even need a shoulder replacement to correct an earlier replacement attempt. Barring a revision surgery, there are two main types of shoulder replacements: total and reverse.

Total shoulder replacement

A total shoulder replacement is what you most likely think it is: every part of the shoulder joint needs to be replaced. This includes the ball at the end of the arm and the socket itself where the ball rests in. A total shoulder replacement may be necessary in the case of pervasive arthritis related damage or a major injury like a car accident where the entire structure is damaged beyond repair. Typically, if imaging testing and self-reported difficulty support the need for a drastic treatment option, a total replacement will be suggested.

Reverse shoulder replacement

A reverse shoulder replacement may be recommended for a more specific case. While total replacements cover a wide variety of root causes, a reverse shoulder replacement is used if there is damage in the rotator cuff caused by arthritis called cuff tear arthropathy. In a total replacement, the rotator cuff muscles and tendons are used to operate the new artificial joint. Instead, the deltoid muscles are used in this procedure.

Complex revision of shoulder replacement

While most shoulder replacement procedures are successful, sometimes there are complications. Whether it’s pain, difficulty moving, or an infection, sometimes another surgery is required to make revisions. A complex revision of shoulder replacement can look different depending on your individual situation. Sometimes the entire joint needs to be replaced. In other instances, just one component is necessary to replace. Your doctor will use imaging testing and provide recommendations based on the findings.


Joint injuries can be complex and lower your quality of life due to reduced mobility and pain. Severe shoulder injuries and arthritis can make life seem impossible. Whether it’s missed work, difficulty sleeping, or doing the simplest task of raising a glass to your mouth, all of these things can come about due to an untreated shoulder condition. If shoulder replacement is what makes sense for you and is recommended, you want it performed by an experienced orthopaedic surgeon that you can trust. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. The team at Austin Shoulder Institute is here to provide you with the care you need. Stop living with debilitating shoulder pain and find relief.

Dr. Benjamin Szerlip Dr. Szerlip is a fellowship trained Orthopedic Surgeon. He specializes in arthroscopic and reconstructive surgery of the shoulder and knee including joint replacement, rotator cuff repair, and other sports medicine injuries. He utilizes the most recent and minimally invasive techniques including hip replacement through an anterior approach. Dr. Szerlip also provides services in fracture care, and general orthopedics.

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