A lot of patients ask about a procedure called a reverse shoulder replacement, wondering what it is and what makes it different from a conventional shoulder replacement. Most replacements are done for arthritis, a wearing away of the smooth joint surfaces. In a regular shoulder replacement, the ball and socket are replaced with metal and plastic, respectively. This results in excellent pain relief and improved motion and function.
Patients who have a large tear of some of the muscles around the shoulder (the rotator cuff) cannot have a regular shoulder replacement because the torn rotator cuff is not present to keep the ball centered in the socket. In a reverse shoulder, the socket is replaced with a metal ball and the ball is replaced with a metal and plastic socket. This implant has more constraint and therefore doesn’t need the rotator cuff to center the ball in the socket. The remaining muscles in the shoulder, namely the deltoid, can now take over and allow the patient to lift their arm.
Reverse shoulder replacements have revolutionized the treatment of arthritis and rotator cuff tears, giving hope to patients who previously had no good options.