Do I Need Shoulder Surgery?

Approximately 3-5% of Americans experience symptoms related to decreased range of motion in the shoulder annually. After an injury to the rotator cuff, adhesive capsulitis can set in. Adhesive capsulitis, otherwise known as frozen shoulder, occurs when the synovial membrane in the shoulder swells, thickens, and contracts. The membrane increases in size, leaving less space for the upper arm and shoulder to move freely. Increased friction and decreased range of motion leads to pain and discomfort that worsens as the inflammatory process continues. People with preexisting inflammatory conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disorders are at a higher risk of developing adhesive capsulitis. While many people can manage symptoms with physical therapy, surgical intervention may be necessary if the person does not respond to a combination of stretching and medication.

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Stretching is the first line of defense

While surgery may be necessary for unresponsive or extreme injuries, healthcare experts recommend first treating the immobile joint with nonsurgical interventions. Some doctors recommend a mixture of medication and physical therapy, focusing on progressive stretching to restore range of motion. Oral anti-inflammatories, pain medication, and corticosteroid injections may be prescribed to manage pain levels and boost flexibility in the shoulder joint. Many minor shoulder injuries can be managed effectively with nonsurgical treatment options if caught early.

Surgery in persistent cases

If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t work, the following strategy centers around surgical intervention. By manipulating the joint under anesthesia, doctors force shoulder movement while the patient is unconscious. The doctors’ interventions cause the joint capsule to tear or loosen, producing an improved range of motion following the procedure. Physicians also perform shoulder arthroscopies, which involve cutting through the frozen capsule with small instruments inserted through cuts in the shoulder. A combination of both surgical techniques has been demonstrated to achieve maximum mobility.

A pain-free future

While many Americans suffer from shoulder injuries, combining surgical intervention and physical therapy allows many people to recover mobility and an overall range of motion. Daily stretching before surgical intervention will enable people to expand the joint capsule before strengthening the muscles. Medication and physical therapy can successfully restore movement in the upper arm and shoulder in more minor shoulder injuries. When a clinical procedure is needed, a robust treatment plan after surgery must include a comprehensive physical therapy roadmap, using gentle movement to return motion to the shoulder.

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