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Shoulder and Elbow Joint Replacement

The aim of this booklet is to provide information for people who are considering a shoulder or elbow joint replacement. It includes the sorts of questions people often ask their doctors. Many of the questions and answers apply to both shoulder and elbow replacement. However, there are differences between the two operations and these will be highlighted.

What is joint replacement?
Replacement of the shoulder joint and elbow joint are procedures where the surfaces of the joint, normally made of bone covered with cartilage, are replaced with parts made of metal and plastic. The operation is sometimes called arthroplasty. In the shoulder, often only the upper arm (humeral) side of the joint is replaced. This is called hemiarthroplasty, meaning replacement of part of the joint. With the elbow, both sides of the joint are replaced (total arthroplasty).

When should I have a shoulder or elbow joint replacement?
Painful arthritis is the main reason for shoulder or elbow replacement. Shoulder and elbow joints which are affected by arthritis can become painful, swollen and difficult to move. The lack of movement can be caused by the joint surfaces not moving smoothly on each other, or by contraction of the soft tissues (tendons, ligaments) around the joint. The joint may be too painful to allow you to move it. In a joint where pain cannot be relieved by other methods such as drugs, splints, injections or physiotherapy, and the pain is interfering with your quality of life, a joint replacement may be considered. A surgeon who performs these operations will advise you. Less frequently a replacement may be carried out to deal with fractures close to the joints.
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