Shoulder Replacement Surgery: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

The shoulder

Shoulder replacement surgery replaces the worn parts of your shoulder joint. When you leave the hospital, your arm will be in a sling. It will be helpful if there is someone to help you at home for the next few weeks or until you have more energy and can move around better.

You will go home with a bandage and stitches or staples. You can remove the bandage when your doctor tells you to. If the stitches are not the type that dissolve, your doctor will remove them in 10 to 14 days. You may still have some mild pain, and the area may be swollen for several months after surgery. Your doctor will give you medicine for the pain.

You will continue the rehabilitation program (rehab) you started in the hospital. The better you do with your rehab exercises, the sooner you will get your strength and movement back. Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work as early as 2 to 3 weeks after surgery, as long as you avoid certain arm movements, such as lifting.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. You may take a nap, but don't stay in bed all day.
  • Work with your physiotherapist to learn the best way to exercise.
  • You will have a sling to wear at night. And it's a good idea to also put a small stack of folded sheets or towels under your upper arm while you are in bed to keep your arm from dropping too far back.
  • Your arm should stay next to your body or in front of it for several weeks, both while you are up and during sleep.
  • Don't lift anything with the affected arm for 6 weeks.
  • You may need to take sponge baths until your stitches or staples have been removed. You will probably be able to shower 24 hours after they are removed.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.
  • Your doctor may advise you to give up activities that put stress on that shoulder. This includes sports such as weight lifting or tennis, unless your tennis arm was not the one affected.

Diet

  • By the time you leave the hospital, you will probably be eating your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt. Your doctor may recommend that you take iron and vitamin supplements.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • If you take warfarin, make sure you get about the same amount of vitamin K each day. This will help blood thinners work evenly from day to day. An example of food that is high in vitamin K is leafy green vegetables.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Don't stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you take a blood thinner, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Exercise

  • Shoulder rehabilitation is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. This helps you get back your shoulder's range of motion and strength. You will work with your doctor and physiotherapist to plan this exercise program. To get the best results, you need to do the exercises correctly and as often and as long as your doctor tells you.

Ice

  • For pain, put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Other instructions

  • Wear medical alert jewellery that says you may need antibiotics before any procedure, including dental work.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your lung (called a pulmonary embolism). These may include:
    • Sudden chest pain.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Coughing up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe or increasing pain.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks or pus.
    • A fever.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your arm.
  • Your arm turns cold or changes colour.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis). These may include:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in the leg or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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