Shoulder Replacement: A Treatment That Must Be Revisited
By Michael Carroll
Joint arthritis is a problem affecting millions of Americans from all walks of life, and arthritis of the shoulder is no different. But, while we frequently hear about knee replacement and hip replacement, it is very rare for a similar treatment to be suggested for the shoulder.
However, it is not because of a huge difference between the hip or knee from the shoulder that this is the case. The primary reason that shoulder replacements are so rare is because there is a simple lack of expertise in such procedures. On top of this, it has been cited that shoulder surgery has more risk than a similar surgery for the hip or knee.
Thanks to a recent study, it appears that this common understanding was false. A study by the John Hopkins Department of Orthopedics led by Edward McFarland, MD, director of the division of adult orthopedics at Johns Hopkins Hospital analyzed a series of hip replacement versus knee replacement versus shoulder replacement procedures. After studying the way the patients recovered and the extent of effectiveness of the surgery, researchers concluded that comparatively, total shoulder replacement was just as safe and effective as other types of joint replacement.
According to a nationwide 2003 Medicare figure, 6700 people had shoulder joints replaced that year compared with 107,000 hip replacements and nearly 200,000 knee replacements. While these numbers would suggest that hip and knee replacements are most effective because they are most popular, it is interesting that patients in the study who had shoulder surgery, had far fewer in hospital post-surgical complications compared to those who had their hips and knees replaced. Additionally, despite the fewer numbers compared to the knee and hip, the shoulder replacement surgery (also called arthroplasty) was less expensive, according to the researcher. Shoulder replacements total cost on average were just over $10,000 where hip replacement was $15,000 and knee replacement nearly $15,000.
What it really comes down to is that shoulder replacement surgery should be performed more frequently than comparative surgeries in the knee and hip. This fact is that the surgery is cheaper, more effective, and has equal, if not more, of a demand from American patients. The effectiveness of shoulder replacement surgery cannot be ignored, as 99% of people who have had shoulder replacement for arthritis, find pain relief after the surgery and say they wish they had done it sooner. As indicated by the John Hopkins study, there may be little reason to wait.
Michael Carroll, MD is a board certified family physician with a special interest in sports medicine and shoulder pain. He is the founding partner of Creekside Clinic, LLC, a progressive primary care center in Traverse City, Michigan and a member of both the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He also has an interest in shoulder and rotator cuff injuries, specifically with regards to cutting edge treatments.