Using your shoulder after replacement surgery

You have had shoulder replacement surgery to replace the bones of your shoulder joint with artificial parts. The parts include a stem made of metal and a metal ball that fits on the top of the stem. A plastic piece is used as the new surface of the shoulder blade.

Now that you are home you will need to know how to protect your shoulder as it heals.


You will probably be wearing a sling for the first 6 weeks. After that, you will use the sling mostly when you go to crowded places or for support. Some patients also wear a shoulder immobilizer. This keeps your shoulder from moving.

When you are lying down, your shoulder should rest on a rolled up towel or small pillow. This helps keep the muscles and tendons around your shoulder from stretching in a way that could cause damage. You need to keep doing this for 6 to 8 weeks after your surgery, even when you are wearing a sling.

Your doctor or physical therapist may teach you pendulum exercises to do at home for 4 to 6 weeks. To do this exercise, lean over and support your weight with your good arm on a counter or table. Then hang your arm that had surgery down. Very carefully and slowly swing your loose arm around in circles.

Your doctor or physical therapist will also teach you safe ways to move your arm and shoulder.

  • Do not try to lift or move your shoulder without supporting it yourself with your good arm or having someone else support it. Your doctor or therapist may tell you it is okay to lift or move your shoulder without this support.
  • Use your other (good) arm to move the arm that had surgery. This is called passive range of motion. Move it only as far as your doctor or physical therapist tells you to.

These exercises and movements may be hard at first, but they will get easier over time. It is very important to do these as your doctor or therapist showed you. Doing these exercises will help your shoulder get better faster. They will also make it possible for you to do more activities after you recover.

Activities and movements you should try to avoid are:

  • Reaching or using your shoulder very much
  • Lifting anything heavier than a cup of coffee
  • Supporting your body weight with your hand on the side you had surgery
  • Making sudden jerking movements

Wear the sling all the time unless your doctor says you do not have to.

After 4 to 6 weeks, your doctor or physical therapist will show you other exercises to build up the strength in your shoulder and to regain range of motion (fuller movement).

Ask your doctor about what sports and other activities are okay for you after you recover. Placing too much strain on your new shoulder may decrease how long it lasts before you start having pain or other problems. Remember to always think about how to safely use your shoulder before you move or start an activity.

  • Avoid activities that require doing the same movement over and over again with your shoulder, such as weight lifting.
  • Avoid "jamming" activities, such as hammering.
  • Avoid "impact-loading" sports, such as boxing.
  • Avoid any physical activities that need quick stop-start motions or twisting.
  • Do not push heavy objects.
  • You may be able to go back to more active sports, such as tennis and golf. But first ask your surgeon what activities you can do.

You will probably not be able to drive for at least 3 weeks after surgery. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when it is okay.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • Bleeding that soaks through your dressing and does not stop when you place pressure over the area
  • Pain that does not go away when you take your pain medicine
  • Swelling in your arm
  • Redness, pain, swelling, or a yellowish discharge from the wound
  • Fever higher than 101 °F

Also call the doctor if:

  • Your hand or fingers are darker in color or feel cool to the touch.
  • Your new shoulder joint does not feel secure. It feels like it is moving around.

Alternate Names

Joint replacement surgery - using your shoulder; Shoulder replacement surgery - after


Azar FM, Calandruccio JH. Arthroplasty of the shoulder and elbow. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 8.

Update Date: 12/20/2012

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Dept of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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