Barbara A Little Better Every Day: Read Barbara's Story

“The surgery was so much easier than I expected. I only wish I’d done it sooner”

Daily living easier following shoulder replacement surgery for Hamilton resident

When you’re in pain, even the smallest, everyday task can seem nearly impossible.

“I first noticed the pain in my left shoulder when I was putting on my coat,” explains Barbara, of Hamilton.

With a family history of arthritis, Barbara knew what was happening—and that it probably would not improve. Soon, activities like holding her granddaughter, curling her hair and baking her famous chocolate chip cake were challenging, if not impossible.

“I couldn’t even lift the bowl to pour the batter into the pan,” she says.

Putting Up with Pain

Chronic pain is a consistent—or sometimes worsening—pain that persists for months, even years, without improvement. It is estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide are living with some kind of chronic pain.

For Barbara, the chronic pain had become a great inconvenience. Still, she was hesitant to pursue surgery.

“I had knee replacement surgery the year before, and that surgery didn’t concern me. My mother and uncle each had knee replacement so I knew what to expect. Shoulder replacement seemed like it would take a lot to come back from,” she explains.

Edward Armbruster, DO, board certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in upper extremity orthopedics says Barbara’s hesitation is not unlike many of his patients. “Most of my shoulder patients just want to get back to their normal, but they are not familiar with shoulder replacement,” he says.

That’s why for Barbara, and any of his patients, he will only pursue surgery after exhausting any and all non-surgical options, including medication, physical therapy and injections.

“Nothing can match our factory parts,” he says. “So surgery is always a last resort.”

Basics of Shoulder Replacement

Education, Dr. Armbruster says, can make a world of difference in the anxious patient. He put Barbara’s concerns to rest by explaining the procedure, pain management and rehabilitation, and providing a background on shoulder replacement.

Not new to the orthopedic world, shoulder joint replacement surgery has been helping people return to their normal for more than 30 years. Recent advancements in surgical technique and equipment have opened the door for even more shoulder pain sufferers to consider shoulder replacement options.

And in Dr. Armbruster’s opinion, knowledge is power for patients considering surgery. “When I can educate my patients about what to expect, there is less anxiety,” he explains.

Today, Dr. Armbruster explains, there are two common approaches to total shoulder replacement:

Standard: A standard total shoulder surgery involves the replacement of the head of the humerus bone with a metal ball. The socket of the shoulder blade is replaced with a plastic implant. This approach works quite well for many individuals with chronic shoulder pain who have minimal rotator cuff damage.

Reverse: Reverse total shoulder replacement has the new ball and socket on the opposite side of the normal shoulder. The socket of the shoulder blade is replaced by a metal hemisphere, while a plastic socket is used to replace the humeral head. This is ideal for those with extensive rotator cuff damage that does not allow for a standard surgery.

Fresh Start with No Pain

“From the time I came out of surgery, and throughout rehabilitation, I had no pain,” says Barbara.

“I even had friends and family saying, ‘get ahead of the pain,’ with the medication, so I took one the first day. I soon realized I didn’t need it. That was the only pain medication I took the whole time,” she adds.

According to Dr. Armbruster, it’s not uncommon for these patients, who are used to their chronic pain, to experience little to no pain following surgery.

“Many find after surgery that their pain is different, and better, than before surgery. And that’s immediate with the replacement of the joint,” he explains.

“This happens because arthritic pain and surgical pain are very different pains. Surgical pain is not as severe and deeply seeded as arthritic pain. It’s easier to tolerate for most people,” he says.

Barbara looks back to life before her surgery and she can’t believe how much of her everyday life was dictated by her pain.

“I would always do what I had to do, but I realize now all the things I was not doing because of that pain,” she says.

“The surgery was so much easier than I expected. I only wish I’d done it sooner.”