A shoulder impingement [im-PINJ-mint] surgery, or shoulder arthroscopy [arth-ROSS-kuh-pee], is a surgery to examine or repair tissues in and around the shoulder joint. A shoulder arthroscopy uses smaller incisions than open surgery, which helps reduce potential complications and healing time.
Shoulder arthroscopy can be used to diagnose and treat a number of problems such as:
- Rotator cuff problems: A tendon may be torn or may have pulled away from the arm bone.
- Shoulder instability: The shoulder joint may be loose, and the arm bone may slip out of the shoulder socket (become dislocated).
- Shoulder impingement [im-PINJ-mint]: Bone growths (spurs) or inflamed tissues may be interfering with shoulder movement.
Your doctor will likely recommend imaging tests, such as an x-ray or MRI, to understand what problems might exist.
Depending on the findings, your doctor may also recommend:
- Non-surgical methods, including physical therapy or changes in activity type and level
- Open surgery that completely exposes the shoulder
Complications are not common, but include risks that are involved with any surgery, such as:
- Allergic reactions to medicines
- Breathing problems
- Excessive bleeding
- Blood clot
Risks that are specific to a shoulder arthroscopy include:
- Shoulder stiffness
- Continued pain
- Weakness in the shoulder
In comparison to open surgery, a shoulder arthroscopy typically results in:
- Less pain and stiffness
- Fewer complications
- Shorter hospital stays
- Faster recovery
Prepare your household so you can do activities of daily living with the arm and hand on the side that doesn’t need surgery.
Follow all instructions from your surgical team about what and when to eat or drink in the hours before your surgery. This will help prevent problems with anesthesia. If you don’t follow these instructions, your procedure may have to be postponed.
Tell your doctor about all medicines you take, including any prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs (such as allergy pills or cough syrup), inhalers, patches, vitamins, or herbal remedies. You may have to stop taking some of these for a few days before and after your surgery.
Bring a large shirt that buttons up the front to wear home so you won’t have to pull a shirt over your head.
What happens before surgery?
When you arrive at the hospital the morning of your surgery, this is what you can expect:
- Preparation. You will change into a hospital gown. A healthcare provider will mark the shoulder to be operated on.
- Anesthesia (an-ehs-TEE-zhuh). You will be given one or more of these types of anesthesia:
- Local anesthesia, so you don’t feel anything near your shoulder.
- General anesthesia that puts you to sleep and prevents feeling in your entire body.
What happens during surgery?
The surgery usually lasts about 1 hour and involves:
- Evaluation. The surgeon will make a small (about 1/2-inch) incision in your shoulder and insert an arthroscope (scope). The scope sends images of your shoulder joint to a large video screen. A harmless fluid may be injected to expand the area to make it easier for the surgeon to see and work on your shoulder.
- Procedures. To make repairs, the surgeon will make 2 or 3 more small incisions. Repairs may include:
- Rotator cuff repair: Repairs tears in the tendons and shaves down extra bone growth
- Surgery for shoulder instability: Repairs the rim of the shoulder joint and attached tissues
- Surgery for shoulder impingement: Cleans out damaged or inflamed tissue and may involve shaving down areas of bone growth
- Closing the incision. Your incisions will be closed with sutures (stitches) or staples and covered with a dressing (bandage). Your surgeon will remove the sutures or staples when your incisions have healed.
Results of a shoulder arthroscopy vary by each person. Talk to your doctor about what to anticipate during and after your surgery, and also what to expect for recovery.
Most people go home the day of surgery. You will be able to go home as soon as your surgeon feels it is safe for you. Here’s what to expect:
- Monitoring your recovery. After your surgery you will be taken to a recovery area and watched until your anesthesia wears off. Your family and friends may visit after you are awake.
- Pain management. You will be given medicine to control your pain. You may also be given a cold pack and a small device to wear home, called a local anesthesia infusion device (LAID).
- Sling. You may be instructed to keep your arm in a sling for a week or longer. Your healthcare providers will show you how to use it.
- Recovery. Recovery from shoulder surgery can take 1 to 6 months. Follow all instructions from your healthcare providers and physical therapists to ensure the best possible outcome.