Explore Shoulder Replacement

A shoulder replacement (also known as shoulder arthroplasty or total shoulder replacement) is when the parts of the shoulder affected by arthritis are replaced with an implant, also called a prosthesis. This is done by replacing the ball of the joint (the humeral head) and the socket (glenoid) with metal and/or plastic parts that can move smoothly in the joint.


The shoulder is made up of three bones – the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the collarbone (clavicle). The shoulder is a ball-on-socket joint where the ball (humeral head) fits in the socket (glenoid). It is held in place by the rotator cuff.

People can develop arthritis in their shoulder. Arthritis destroys the smooth cartilage that allows your shoulder to move freely and smoothly. With arthritis, the bones of the shoulder begin to rub against each other, which can cause pain and stiffness.

Why do some people need shoulder replacements?

The most common reason a person has a total shoulder replacement is because of arthritis. Over time, as arthritis wears away the cartilage in a shoulder, a person will experience pain and progressive stiffness, which will result in limited range of motion. There is no way to stop the progression of arthritis.


Diagnosis of Shoulder Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis can be seen in a plain x-ray. If there is not enough space between the humeral head and glenoid, a doctor will be able to see this on an x-ray. Occasionally a doctor will order a CT Scan, which can show joint deformity. If you do have shoulder arthritis, there are different courses of treatment you can discuss with your Shoulder Team.


Nonsurgical Treatment

Before Total Shoulder Replacement, doctors may suggest a conservative treatment plan, including:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Activity modifications
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Cortisone injections

Surgical Treatment

If those nonsurgical options do not offer lasting pain relief, your surgeon may suggest a total shoulder replacement as a good option for your unique case.

While not as common as a total hip replacement or total knee replacement, total shoulder replacement is just as successful in relieving joint pain. If you want to learn more about total shoulder replacement or think you may be a candidate for total shoulder replacement, contact the Shoulder Service at Mass General to schedule an appointment with one of our shoulder experts.