Shoulder Stabilization

Shoulder stabilization is a surgical procedure to reattach or tighten the strong bands of tissue (ligaments) that hold the shoulder together.

Why is shoulder stabilization needed?
Shoulder stabilization is necessary when you have a "loose" shoulder. The shoulder is a complex joint composed of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. The upper arm bone (humerus) fits into a shallow, socket-shaped area on your shoulder blade (scapula). The collarbone (clavicle) connects your breastbone to the shoulder blade. Ligaments hold the bones together to form the joint. A partial or complete tear in one of the ligaments can cause the shoulder to become loose or unstable.

An unstable shoulder can generate excessive wear-and-tear on the glenoid from the humerus moving around in the joint. This can be very painful and lead to shoulder dislocations. As a result, your ability to participate in daily activities is greatly reduced.

What should I do before the surgery?
Talk with your doctor about your rehabilitation time after surgery. You may need to have some additional help at home for a few weeks. Your doctor may have you take some antibiotic medications before and after your surgery to help reduce the risk of infection.

You should not have any skin infections or irritations on your shoulder at the time of surgery. Contact your surgeon prior to the surgery if these problems occur. Wash your shoulder with soap before going to the surgical center for your procedure. Plan to be at the surgery center or hospital a couple of hours before your procedure.

What happens during the surgery?
The nurses may give you an intravenous (IV) line so you can receive fluids and medications. Local anesthesia will be administered to numb the shoulder. General anesthesia may be given to let you "sleep" through the surgery.

One of two techniques will be used during the procedure. If an "open" technique is chosen, an incision will be made in the skin over the ligaments. The ligaments will be sewn back together and the incision will be closed with stitches.

If arthroscopy is the preferred technique, small incisions called "portals" will be made in the area. An arthroscope (small tube with a tiny camera system) will be inserted into your shoulder. This allows your doctor to see the ligaments and sew them together with specialized instruments. The portals are then closed with stitches or sterile tape.

Following either technique, a bulky dressing will be applied. A shoulder brace or sling will be placed on your arm. This is to immobilize the shoulder and protect the surgical site. The entire procedure usually lasts about 90 minutes.

What happens after the surgery?
After an open procedure, you may go home or stay overnight, depending on how you are feeling. Most patients go home the same day after arthroscopic surgery.

You will be shown exercises to maintain strength and flexibility in your hand, wrist and elbow. Gentle range of motion for the shoulder may begin approximately 7 to 10 days after surgery, depending on your healing. Your doctor may also refer you for physical and occupational therapy for rehabilitation. The purpose of your rehabilitation program is to restore shoulder function and help your return to your regular activities as soon as possible.

What are the outcomes?
Shoulder stabilization has a high success rate. Many individuals return to work within a week if their job will not cause stress to the shoulder. Full recovery usually takes approximately 3 to 6 months. Your recuperation depends on several factors including your age, overall health, extent of the injury, and how well you follow your rehabilitation program.