Reverse Total Shoulder Replacement

A reverse total shoulder replacement is a surgery that may be performed for patients with rotator cuff arthropathy. It involves resurfacing the end of the shoulder bone (humerus) and socket (glenoid) with artificial components. Metal implants are sized and fixated onto the ends of the bones, and a specialized plastic bearing is placed between the metal components. These new components glide smoothly against each other, which alleviates pain and leads to improved range of motion, function, and quality of life.

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A reverse shoulder arthroplasty is a special type of shoulder replacement that is performed when patients have irreparable rotator cuff tears or have severe arthritis causing significant bone loss. This type of replacement can also be used for certain types of fractures involving the upper arm bone (i.e. proximal humerus fractures). Frequently, a CT scan of the shoulder will be obtained prior to surgery.

In a traditional or anatomic shoulder replacement, the ball at the top of the upper arm (the humeral head) is replaced with an artificial ball that is placed onto a stem inserted in the upper arm. The socket is resurfaced with a piece of plastic; however, with a reverse shoulder replacement, the opposite occurs. The ball is placed on the socket side and is attached to a baseplate secured to the socket with screws. A metal tray that looks like a socket is lined with a piece of plastic and attached to a stem inserted into the upper arm bone, which is why it is called a reverse.

With the reverse orientation of the components, the arm is effectively lengthened, which makes another muscle, called the deltoid, more efficient at lifting the arm. This provides a way to raise the arm up and out to the side without a rotator cuff.

An incision is made (about 8 cm) in the front of the shoulder. Dr. Faulkner and his assistant will identify many anatomic structures and will place retractors that help protect those structures and allow for visualization. In order to enter the shoulder joint, a muscle called the subscapularis is released from its attachment to the top of the humerus. The humeral head (ball) and glenoid (socket) are identified and reconstructed based on the 3D blueprint that was obtained prior to surgery. Dr. Faulkner will then trial different sizes of the new components to evaluate the best anatomic fit for the patient, and the new components will be fixated to the bone. Dr. Faulkner and his assistant will repair the subscapularis muscle and close the incision. Dressings will be placed over the incision, and the patient will wake up in a sling.

  • This surgery is performed under general anesthesia with a nerve block.
  • This surgery is usually inpatient, which means the patient generally stays the night at the hospital to allow for nurses to closely monitor the patient. Healthier patients may be able to have an outpatient procedure and return home the same day.
  • Surgery typically lasts 1.5-2 hours.
  • Patient will be fit for a sling at a preop appointment before surgery and will need to bring this to surgery.
  • The sling will be placed on the patient prior to waking up from anesthesia.
  • The incisions will be closed with absorbable sutures and a waterproof dressing will be applied. This should be left in place until the first postop appointment.
  • The patient may shower right away as long as there is a good seal of the waterproof dressing.

Frequently Asked


How long will I need to wear my sling?

6 weeks. The sling should be removed at least 3x/day for elbow, wrist, and finger range of motion exercises as will be instructed.

Can I drive with a sling on?

You can drive when you feel safe to operate a vehicle with 1 functioning arm. This usually takes most patients a few weeks after surgery.

Do I have to wear the sling at night?

Yes. Patients are usually unaware of their arm movements at night. The sling helps to ensure that the arm stays in a good position for healing.

When do I start PT after surgery?

Physical therapy typically starts 4 weeks after surgery. 

When can I shower?

2 days after surgery. You will have a waterproof dressing on that should be left in place until your first postoperative appointment.

How often do I need to use the ice machine?

The ice machine should be used for about 30 minutes at least 3 times a day until your first postop. You may ice more frequently if desired.

What is a nerve block?

An anesthetic injection performed by the anesthesiologist to turn off pain signals that go to a targeted region.

How can I control my pain after surgery?

This will be discussed at your preop appointment. If a narcotic is prescribed, the risks and side effects will be reviewed with you. We encourage you to try and discontinue these by your first postop appointment. Depending on your health history, you may be encouraged to take anti-inflammatories and Tylenol instead of the narcotics.

What are the risks of a reverse shoulder replacement?

The overall risk of a complication is less than 1%. The most common risk is shoulder stiffness from scarring. Other more rare risks include infection, fracture, dislocation, and scapular notching.

I am told I need surgery. What next?