Shoulder stabilisation surgery

Primary open or arthroscopic shoulder stabilisation procedure (including labral/SLAP/tendon repair)

About shoulder stabilisation surgery

The shoulder joint is made up of three bones which are held in place by a system of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The main ball and socket joint is inherently unstable. The small socket has a rim of thick tissue called the labrum which helps stabilise the joint. The whole joint is contained by sac of fibrous tissue (shoulder capsule) which has ligaments embedded in it. Any of these stabilising elements can be stretched, torn or damaged as a result of trauma.

If your arm is severely wrenched, you've had a direct impact onto your shoulder, or had a fall onto an outstretched arm, it can damage these tissues in your shoulder.

The tissues can stretch or completely separate from the shoulder bones, causing a dislocation.

Symptoms of shoulder instability include: pain, swelling, weakness, looseness and reduced mobility, but also repeated dislocations.

Your surgeon is likely to recommend surgery if you have a tendency to repeated dislocations of the shoulder and your symptoms have not improved after physiotherapy.

Different types of procedure

How is the surgery carried out?

The operation is carried out under general or regional anaesthetic.

It is usually arthroscopic/keyhole surgery or occasionally open surgery, depending on the type of injury.

Keyhole surgery involves inserting a tiny camera and surgical instruments through small cuts and using a monitor to operate the instruments. Open surgery involves one long incision to access the whole joint.

During the surgery, the torn labrum is reattached back to the shoulder socket with the help of special anchors. This involves placing small anchors into the socket of the shoulder and the torn tissue is stitched back to the bone. Usually three small 1cm cuts are needed.

The cuts are closed with stitches or staples and covered with a dressing.

What happens after surgery

You will be usually able to go home on the same day as your operation. Your wounds need to be kept dry for 48 hours after surgery.

You will need to keep your arm in a sling for up to four weeks, and you will be given simple exercises by your physiotherapist.

Apply ice packs on your shoulder to help reduce the swelling and you can take over-the counter anti inflammatory painkillers to manage the pain. It helps to use a pillow under your shoulder while lying in bed during the first week or so.

You will be given more exercises to do after the repair has healed.

Avoid heavy lifting and driving during the first six weeks. You should be able to return to work in a week or two if you have a desk job, and up to six weeks if your work is more physical.

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Published: 6 February 2020 | Review: 6 February 2023

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email or telephone 020 7460 5901.