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Shoulder Instability Repair: Expert Insights and Recovery Tips


Shoulder instability can be a challenging and painful condition to deal with, affecting individuals of all ages and activity levels. 

Whether you’re an athlete or simply looking to regain the stability and strength in your shoulder, understanding the ins and outs of shoulder instability repair is crucial. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need about shoulder instability repair, from the causes and diagnosis to treatment options and recovery.

What is shoulder instability?

Shoulder instability is a medical condition characterized by the excessive and abnormal movement of the upper arm bone (humerus) within the shoulder joint socket (glenoid). 

This movement can result in the partial dislocation (subluxation) or complete dislocation of the shoulder joint. There are two primary types of shoulder instability based on its cause:

  • Traumatic shoulder instability

This type typically occurs due to a sudden injury or trauma, such as a fall, collision, or sports-related accident. Traumatic shoulder instability can lead to acute dislocation, where the humerus completely pops out of the glenoid socket.

  • Atraumatic shoulder instability

This type is often associated with repetitive overuse or gradual wear and tear on the shoulder joint. It can result from excessive overhead motion, such as throwing, swimming, or lifting weights. 

Atraumatic instability tends to cause repeated episodes of subluxation rather than complete dislocation.

In both types of shoulder instability, the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that support and stabilize the shoulder may become damaged or stretched, making the joint more prone to abnormal movement. 

This condition can cause pain, discomfort, weakness, and a decreased range of motion in the affected shoulder.

How is shoulder instability diagnosed?

Diagnosing shoulder instability typically involves a combination of physical examinations, medical history assessments, and imaging studies. Diagnostic procedures may include the following:

  • X-rays
  • MRI
  • CT scan
  • Arthroscopy

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor can work with you to develop a tailored treatment plan, including non-surgical and surgical approaches.

What are the surgical options for shoulder instability?

Doctors will opt for physical therapy, rehabilitation exercises, and bracing for mild cases. If conservative treatments are not effective or if there is significant structural damage to the shoulder, surgical intervention may be necessary. 

The choice of surgical procedure depends on the type and severity of the instability:

  1. Arthroscopic surgery

This minimally invasive procedure often repairs torn or stretched ligaments, labral tears, and other soft tissue damage contributing to instability. It involves small incisions and the use of a camera and specialized instruments to make repairs.

  1. Open surgery

Open surgery may be required in some cases of severe or complex instability. This approach allows the surgeon greater access to the shoulder joint and may involve procedures like bone grafting or reconstruction of damaged structures.

How is shoulder instability repair performed?

Shoulder instability surgery, often performed arthroscopically, aims to repair and stabilize the shoulder joint by addressing the underlying causes of instability. 

Here is an overview of how shoulder instability repair surgery is typically performed:

Anesthesia and positioning

The surgery is performed under either general anesthesia (where the patient is unconscious) or regional anesthesia (such as a nerve block) to numb the shoulder and arm.

The patient is typically positioned in a semi-seated or lateral position, which allows the surgeon access to the shoulder while minimizing pressure on the brachial plexus (nerves of the arm).

Arthroscopic surgery

Most shoulder instability surgeries are performed arthroscopically. This minimally invasive approach involves making small incisions around the shoulder.

  • A small, flexible tube with a camera (arthroscope) is inserted through one of the incisions to provide a clear view of the inside of the shoulder joint on a monitor. 
  • The surgeon uses specialized instruments inserted through other small incisions to perform the procedure.
  • The surgeon carefully examines the shoulder joint’s structures, including the labrum, ligaments, and the head of the humerus, to identify any tears, damage, or instability issues.
  • The surgeon uses sutures and anchors to reattach and tighten torn or stretched ligaments and labral tissue. The goal is to restore stability to the shoulder joint.
  • In some cases where bone defects are contributing to instability, additional procedures may be performed, like bone grafting or bone transfer.

After all repairs and adjustments are made, the surgeon carefully evaluates the joint’s stability and range of motion. The instruments and arthroscope are removed, and the incisions are closed with sutures or surgical staples.

Postoperative care

Following surgery, the patient is monitored in the recovery area. Pain management and instructions on shoulder immobilization, postoperative care, and rehabilitation are provided.

What to expect after surgery?

Here’s what you can generally expect after the procedure and during the recovery phase:

Immediate postoperative period

Pain and discomfort are common during the first few days. Pain medications prescribed by your surgeon can help manage this.

Your shoulder may be placed in a sling or a brace to immobilize and protect the surgical site. It’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions regarding sling use.

First few weeks post-surgery

Your shoulder’s range of motion will be restricted in the early stages of recovery. You may be advised not to lift, reach, or engage in activities that strain the shoulder.

Physical therapy usually begins within the first few weeks. Therapists will guide you through gentle exercises to improve shoulder mobility and prevent stiffness.

Weeks 6-12 post-surgery

As your shoulder heals and gains stability, your physical therapist will introduce strengthening exercises to rebuild muscle and improve joint stability.

Depending on your progress, your surgeon will provide guidelines for gradually increasing your activity level. This may include light activities such as walking and gentle exercises.

3 months and beyond

Full recovery can take several months and sometimes up to a year or more, depending on the extent of the surgery and individual healing. You may gradually return to sports or strenuous activities under the guidance of your medical team.

Regular follow-up appointments with your surgeon are essential to monitor your progress and ensure your shoulder is healing properly.

Additionally, you may need to make some long-term lifestyle modifications to protect your shoulder from future instability.

FAQ: Common questions about shoulder instability repair

Is shoulder instability repair a common procedure?

Shoulder instability repair is a relatively common procedure, particularly among individuals who have experienced recurrent shoulder dislocations or subluxations. It’s often recommended to restore stability and prevent future shoulder problems.

Can physical therapy replace surgery for shoulder instability repair?

Surgery may be necessary for those with recurrent or severe instability to provide long-term stability and prevent further dislocations.

What is the success rate of shoulder instability surgical repair?

The success rate of arthroscopic shoulder instability repair is significantly high. In most cases, surgery reduces the risk of recurrent shoulder instability and allows patients to return to their desired activity level.

Can shoulder instability repair restore full strength and mobility?

While shoulder repair can significantly improve strength and mobility, the extent of recovery can vary among individuals. Physical therapy and rehabilitation are crucial in regaining strength and mobility. 

With commitment to the prescribed rehabilitation program, many patients can achieve near-full or full strength and mobility over time.

Experience Excellence and Expertise at Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center

Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center is one of the best outpatient orthopedic clinic and one of the leading surgery centers in the state.

Our board-certified Raleigh orthopedic surgeons are committed to providing exceptional care, ensuring your safety, and empowering you with the knowledge you need for a successful surgical journey.

ROSC is more than just a surgical facility; we are your partners in orthopedic health. Whether you’re considering surgery, have questions about your procedure, or simply want to explore educational resources, we are here for you every step of the way.

Contact us now to learn more!

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.