This Joint Shoulders A Heavy Burden

The shoulder joint might be considered either an engineering marvel or a nightmare of evolution. As the most complicated joint in the human body, the shoulder allows humans to utilize the arms in complex ways that most non-primate animals cannot. Within the joint is a tangled mess of bones, tendons, cartilage, muscle and nerves. Bearing a large burden of lifting and other arm motions, the shoulder joint is susceptible to both acute injury and chronic wear and can require surgical replacement to restore a full range of motion and eliminate or reduce pain. One side effect of shoulder replacement is numbness and tingling following surgery.

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Uncomfortably numb

Numbness and tingling after a total shoulder replacement can be due to a number of factors that impact the nerves running through and around the joint. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that runs through the shoulder. These nerves allow for sensation and control of movement in the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers. If any nerves in the brachial plexus are stretched or damaged during surgery, numbness and tingling in the shoulder, arm or hand can result. Nerve damage during surgery is not uncommon, as the nerves run very close to the joint. Fortunately, in most cases the feeling is temporary and can be treated to minimize annoying symptoms and promote recovery.

Medications can help

Medications can help alleviate the symptoms of pain and tingling. Opioids, if prescribed, are typically only used for a very brief period to alleviate acute post-surgical pain. More commonly, over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories such as aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen are used for more long-term treatment during recovery. Anti-inflammatories have the benefit of providing not only pain relief, but also reduce the inflammation that can slow the healing process.

Let’s get physical

Physical therapy is a highly effective treatment option to help heal after surgery and promote long-term recovery. Following surgery, immobility of the shoulder joint can reduce the range of motion as muscles, tendons and scar tissue can contract and impair the movement of the joint. Physical therapy can include a number of exercises that help to increase the range of motion, thus promoting the healing process and helping to recover full use of the shoulder joint. Passive range of motion exercises relies on the physical therapist gently moving the arm and shoulder to increase flexibility. Active exercises such as resistance training can help strengthen the muscles and connective tissue within the joint. The physical therapist may also use various other techniques such as heat, ice, ultrasound or electrical stimulation to reduce pain and inflammation.

That takes some nerve

Shoulder replacement surgery can be a positive life-altering experience that can help patients recover pain-free full range of motion. The procedure can result in temporary nerve damage causing numbness and tingling. Fortunately, the use of medications combined with physical therapy can minimize discomfort and promote healing and full recovery.

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