Everything to Know About Total Shoulder Replacement: Surgery to Therapy and Recovery


Approximately 53,000 people across the United States undergo total shoulder replacement surgery every year.

Maybe it’s been recommended to you by your doctor after experiencing a serious shoulder injury, a torn rotator cuff, or perhaps you’ve had gradual arthritis issues in one shoulder. You’ve tried every other option out there, but nothing seems to help.

So, you now have your total shoulder replacement surgery date; it’s set. But what should you expect before, during, and after surgery? You’ve asked, and below we answer the most common questions related to total shoulder replacement recovery, rehabilitation, and general protocol.

What Should You Expect Before Total Shoulder Replacement Surgery?

Usually, you will have a pre-operative program. This type of program prepares you both pre- and post- shoulder replacement surgery. It sets you up for a successful recovery and often will involve education regarding your procedure. Additionally, it will likely preview the prescribed exercises to assist with total shoulder replacement recovery. 

For post-surgery total shoulder replacement exercises, you’ll likely be working with a physical therapist. Your physical therapist will demonstrate, explain, and prescribe suitable exercises for you and your situation. These exercises will help build strength and support the new joint after surgery. The stronger you go into surgery, the less extensive that total shoulder replacement rehab time and recovery should be.

Total Shoulder Replacement Protocol Includes Pre-Operative Tests

About 7-10 days before your surgery, your doctor or surgeon orders a series of tests. As part of the total shoulder replacement protocol, these tests include X-rays, urine samples, blood samples, and possibly an electrocardiogram. They perform these tests to ensure you are in good health going into surgery. Seven days before your shoulder replacement surgery, your surgeon will tell you to avoid taking any anti-inflammatory medications or supplements.

At this time, it’s a good idea to plan the details regarding your total shoulder replacement surgery, such as transportation and post-surgery care. Ask questions! If you’re unsure about something, make sure you inquire with your surgeon or doctor about the matter. Doing so now will make total shoulder replacement rehabilitation even smoother.

And keep doing your exercises for total shoulder replacement rehab. Again, these will ensure success after surgery and potentially make your recovery less painful or troublesome. Further, it’s critical to follow all advice and instructions given to you by your healthcare professional in the days leading up to your total shoulder replacement surgery.

What to Expect During Total Shoulder Replacement Surgery

When the day of your surgery arrives, questions like “how painful is total shoulder replacement surgery?” may be top of mind. In general, you may be fully sedated or a local anesthesia may be applied to the area so there is little-to-no pain involved. 

During surgery, essentially the ball of the humerus bone, your upper arm bone, is replaced with a metal ball. This area and the socket also receive a plastic covering, acting as protection like cartilage tissue. The time it takes to complete total shoulder replacement surgery is often around 3 hours.

Will I Stay in the Hospital After Surgery?

Most patients are able to go home the day after surgery. Rarely is inpatient shoulder replacement rehab necessary. Instead, patients can expect to receive a set list of exercises and are discharged.

Most of the time, hospital staff will check to make sure all your health measurements are normal, you can stand without dizziness, your pain is manageable, and you’re ability to perform your post-surgery exercises with little or no problem. At this time, a follow-up appointment after about two weeks, or 10-14 days, is planned.

Common Exercises for After Your Total Shoulder Replacement

You’ll be given simple exercises to start with total shoulder replacement rehab and recovery, including active range of motion exercises and strengthening exercises. It is also recommended to continue post-surgery total shoulder replacement rehabilitation with a physical therapist near you

Examples of total shoulder replacement exercises you may be prescribed following surgery include: The Pendulum Exercise, Passive External Rotation Exercise, and The Shoulder Blade Pinch.

      Bounce Back From Your Total Shoulder Replacement Better Than Ever

      A total shoulder replacement is often a good thing, as it means you’re taking steps toward a life without pain. In an ideal situation, total shoulder replacement surgery and recovery should take about 6-9 months.

      Your doctor may recommend that you wear a sling for the first 6 weeks to protect your arm during your day-to-day activities. Additionally, make sure to complete all the post-surgery physical therapy exercises prescribed. To find a physical therapist near you that can provide the expert advice and appropriate exercises for total shoulder replacement surgery, use the BetterPT website or download the mobile app to schedule an appointment today. Match with a clinic that’s convenient for you so you can get the treatment you need to come out stronger than ever after surgery.

      With direct access physical therapy, you don't even need a referral to book an appointment. Get treatment more quickly and easily by skipping the long calls with insurance, the hassle of getting a referral, and the stress of finding the right clinic for your needs. 


      Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor's degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. Marla has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.

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