Spare Parts – Shoulder Replacement Surgery

More patients are turning to shoulder-replacement surgery to relieve pain and restore motion
The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 13, 2008

Carol DiFrulo had come to dread driving to her job as a high-school art teacher on New York’s Staten Island. She loved her work, but arthritis in her shoulders had become so painful that she would cry when maneuvering the steering wheel into a turn. She struggled to lift a paintbrush or write on chalkboards, and combing her long hair was an ordeal.

“I was in agony,” she recalls. “I could hardly move my shoulders at all.”

Today, Ms. DiFrulo, age 59, is pain free and commutes to work happily. In 2006, she had shoulder-replacement surgery — a procedure in which a surgeon removes the shoulder joint and installs an artificial replacement.

Most people have heard of surgeries to replace knee or hip joints. That’s no surprise, given that they are the two most common joint-replacement operations in the U.S., according to 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Shoulder-replacement surgery is the third most frequent, though the annual volume (35,000) is a fraction of those involving knees (534,000) and hips (469,000). (For hips and shoulders, numbers include both total and partial joint replacements.) The shoulder numbers lag behind the other two, specialists say, partly because shoulders aren’t weight-bearing joints. That means fewer people develop severe arthritis in the shoulder, and those who do can sometimes compensate by using the other shoulder more, or make do with rest and medication, rather than have potentially arduous surgery.

Yet the number of shoulder replacements has been increasing, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a professional group, anticipates they will continue to grow by about 10% annually. More…