Shoulder & Elbow : FAQ - Shoulder Surgery

What happens if I agree to having shoulder surgery?

If you and your surgeon agree that shoulder surgery is necessary, you will be asked to attend a Pre-Assessment Clinic a few weeks before your surgery to ensure you are fit for the operation and to record some baseline information. During your clinic appointment, the pre-operative assessment nurse will discuss your stay in hospital and organise any other necessary tests. These may include a blood test, urine test, an ECG (heart tracing) and x-rays. Closer to the date of surgery you will then be sent an appointment to attend a Consent Clinic where you will be seen once more by your surgeon to check you are still happy to go ahead with surgery and to sign a consent form. Another purpose of this clinic visit is for you to ask any further questions about the forthcoming surgery.

When will I know the date of my operation?

You may be given a provisional date at Pre-Assessment Clinic and this will be confirmed by letter.

How long will I be in hospital for?

If your surgery is to be carried out arthroscopically (keyhole surgery), it will generally be carried out as a day case procedure unless you have any other medical conditions which may require you to stay over night.

If you are having your operation as day surgery, you will need to ensure someone can collect you from the hospital and stay with you overnight to check that you are okay. If your surgery is to be carried out as an open procedure, you will generally be kept in hospital over night.

What will I need to do before coming in for surgery?

You will receive a letter which will confirm your admission date and it will include specific instructions you need to follow before coming in to hospital. Please remove any body piercings and nail varnish before coming into hospital. If you take regular medication you will be told at preassessment clinic whether you should continue taking it as normal.

Arthroscopic versus Open shoulder surgery

An open procedure involves an incision along the front of you shoulder and will leave a scar about 4 - 7cm in length. This is usually along the bra or vest strap line, or over the top of your shoulder. This will usually involve a one night stay in hospital.

An arthroscopy is an operation using a specially designed small telescope linked to a TV camera which allows your surgeon to look inside your shoulder joint. This allows the surgeon to examine the shoulder joint and then use very small instruments to perform the surgery. Many people can go home on the day of surgery following arthroscopic procedures.

Will I have any pain after the operation?

Your anaesthetist may decide to perform a nerve block during the surgery. This involves an injection of a local anaesthetic into your neck to numb the nerves going into your arm. The purpose of this is to provide immediate pain relief to your shoulder. The injection usually lasts for 12-24 hours, during which time your shoulder and arm will feel numb and heavy. It is important to take regular painkillers on your discharge from the hospital to avoid any unpleasant pain as the nerve block wears off. Your surgeon will discuss appropriate pain relief with you.

Are there any complications of having shoulder surgery?

As with most types of surgery there are risks involved and complications can occur regardless of which operation you may have.

These include:


  • Anaesthetic risks

  • Chest infections

  • Blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis)

  • Blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolus)

After your surgery:

Will I have any stitches?
Your shoulder wounds will have dressings on them and if you have had stitches they can be removed at your GP's surgery, usually 10 days after the operation.

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