The reverse shoulder replacement is a procedure that restores function and alleviates pain in certain shoulder pathologies, such as cases when there is no longer a functioning rotator cuff, and people have developed arthritic changes to the joint.
It is called reverse because I literally flip the geometry of the joint. So the ball becomes the socket, and the socket becomes the ball.
Doing that allows me to reconfigure the mechanics of the joint, restore overhead motion, eliminate pain, and get people back to their activity level that was previously not possible because of arthritis and the limitations in their range of motion.
What Does a Reverse Shoulder Replacement Look Like?
A reverse shoulder can look a bit odd because we put a half sphere onto the glenoid or the socket of the shoulder. This is called a glenosphere and is fixed in place with screws that go into the shoulder blade.
Then the humeral head (the ball) is removed and replaced with a dish-shaped implant so that the glenosphere on the socket sits in the dish on the humerus.
How Long Is Recovery From Reverse Shoulder Replacement?
The nice thing about a reverse shoulder replacement is that the recovery is a little quicker. We don’t worry about rotator cuff healing after a reverse shoulder replacement like we do an anatomic or total shoulder replacement. This means that you’re in a sling for a shorter period of time and that we can be a little bit more aggressive with our range of motion and stretching exercises out of the gate, which typically allows you to get back to activities sooner.
If you are like most of my patients, you will have between a 3 to 4 month recovery period following surgery to get back to a lot of your activities.
How Effective Are Reverse Shoulder Replacements?
One of my favorite things about the reverse is how successful it is for most patients, how much better they feel, and how quickly they get back into their activity level.
From my perspective as a shoulder surgeon, that is really rewarding to see.
The long-term results are very encouraging as well, both clinically and in the medical literature
The FDA approved the reverse shoulder in the early 2000s. Here in the United States, we are now getting into our 15-year follow-up data.
The long-term data shows that this is a reliable and durable procedure. Additionally, reverse shoulder implants have continued to improve.
Conservatively speaking, you should expect your reverse shoulder implant to last between 10 to 15 years. Depending on your lifestyle and activity level, there’s a reasonable chance that you may be able to expect an even longer implant lifespan.
Is a Reverse Shoulder Replacement a Good Option for Everyone?
No, the reverse is not always the best option for everyone. As an example, a reverse shoulder replacement is not a procedure for somebody who is young and active.
I tend to be very selective regarding who I perform the reverse procedure on.
Generally, I try to reserve the reverse for patients slowing down in their rigorous activity level. That way, we can better maximize the implant’s lifespan and make sure that we’re not setting you up for a second surgery or some other procedure down the road if you were to wear out that implant before your lifetime.