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New Ulm Medical Center

Shoulder replacement can be the answer to years of pain

You don’t have to be Brett Favre to be sidelined with shoulder problems.

A fall, or overuse from gardening, racket sports or other repetitive activities can cause tears, sprains, bursitis or fractures in your shoulder – all painful reminders of how important our shoulders are in our daily lives.

For New Ulm resident Doug Benson, years of wear and tear as a mechanic at the city power plant wore away at his right shoulder until the pain became too much to deal with anymore.

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This scan shows a shoulder after a successful total shoulder replacement surgery. “If you have intractable pain, loss of motion or the inability to rest, you may be a good candidate for shoulder replacement,” says New Ulm Medical Center Orthopedic Surgeon Jean Eelma, MD.

“I had a lot of pain across the right shoulder but it also went into the other side,” Benson said. He put the surgery off for a few years, trying other options such as cortisone shots. Finally, he said, he just didn’t want to put up with the relentless pain day-in and day-out.

“Once I decided to do it, I was scheduled within a couple weeks,” Benson said. He had his shoulder replaced in early December 2013.

New Ulm Medical Center Orthopedic Surgeon Jean Eelma, MD, performed his shoulder replacement surgery. Eelma has been offering this surgery option for about three years. She had previously performed shoulder replacements as part of her practice years ago, prior to coming to NUMC.

“I got back into it because I’m seeing a lot more shoulder arthritis – people in their 50s and 60s as well as older,” she said. Also, the implants have improved vastly in the last few years. “The newer modular components allow us to customize for a better fit and a better functional result.”

A newer procedure, the “reverse shoulder replacement” has allowed patients with arthritis and chronic rotator cuff tears to benefit from shoulder replacement. Previously an intact rotator cuff was necessary to allow for tissue balancing and prevent loosening or dislocation. The reverse shoulder puts a ball where the shoulder socket was, and a cup where the ball of the humerus (arm bone) was, substituting for the absent cuff. The current design has been in general use for about 15 years, with good pain relief and function in most patients.

A good candidate for shoulder replacement is very similar to any other total joint replacement, Eelma said. “If you have intractable pain, loss of motion or the inability to rest, you may be a good candidate for shoulder replacement,” she said. As with other joint replacements, a patient should not expect to be able to go back to heavy, manual laboring with a shoulder replacement.

Those who are not a good candidate for shoulder replacement are heavy laborers and people who have to bear most of their weight on their hands (eg: paraplegics).

A patient undergoing shoulder replacement surgery should expect a one- or two-day hospital stay followed by rehabilitation at home. The patient should return to good function at about six to eight weeks, Eelma said. “It takes that long for the tissues to heal.”

After an overnight stay in the hospital, Benson said, he went home with his arm in a sling and a very effective pain management tool called a “pain ball.”

“With the pain ball, the medication goes right to where you want it and you don’t have to take a stronger pain medication that will have a much greater effect on your whole body,” Benson said. “That was a real life-saver.”

Benson has been doing physical therapy since the surgery with a therapist in the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – New Ulm.

“Pretty soon I’ll be back to normal, but I don’t know what normal is,” Benson joked. He had always been able to continue with his daily activities before, he said, but it had always involved pain in his right shoulder. “I am very glad I had the surgery. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Eelma to find out if you are a candidate for shoulder replacement, call 507-217-5011.