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What is Failed Shoulder Surgery?

Failed shoulder surgery is a surgery that did not meet expectations and resulted in recurring pain or other unwanted symptoms.  All surgeries are associated with risks, some have a higher risk than others. The most commonly reported failed shoulder surgeries include rotator cuff repairs and shoulder stabilization for shoulder instability.  Often the cause of failed shoulder surgery is the reason for the original procedure.  Patient expectations and ultimate outcomes are the KEY component to any surgical planning. 

Symptoms of Failed Shoulder Surgery

The symptoms of failed shoulder surgery depend on the original shoulder condition and the procedure performed and can vary from person to person. However, you are likely to have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Continued pain
  • Stiffness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Weakness
  • Instability
  • Crepitus (cracking sound)

Causes for Failed Shoulder Surgery

Several factors may contribute to failed shoulder surgery: 

  • Unclear indication/expectations for original surgery
  • Unwanted bone restricting movement
  • Formation of adhesions (scar tissue)
  • Infection
  • Nerve injury leading to weakness
  • Failure to heal a fracture 
  • Failure of the rotator cuff repair
  • Reaction to polyethylene or polymethylmethacrylate (implants)
  • Poor rehabilitation following surgery

Diagnosis of Failed Shoulder Surgery

To begin, your doctor will assess the history of your shoulder problem and review the reports of the previous procedure.  Additionally, you may be asked to provide:

  • Information on the onset of symptoms
  • Facts on injuries to your shoulder à patients must bring ALL previous records
  • Information on physical therapy and rehabilitation after the surgery
  • Thorough physical examination focusing on your shoulder 
  • Order imaging tests to view the joint and site of surgery and identify the cause of failure 

Treatment of Failed Shoulder Surgery

Depending on the cause, failed shoulder surgery may respond to non-surgical or surgical intervention.

Dr. Southard will utilize all modalities to help you with your condition.  Often these will start with treatments you may have tried before and are based on
conservative methods to assess how your shoulder responds to these treatments.  You may be prescribed medications and/or local injections.   A physical therapy program may be recommended to stretch and strengthen your affected shoulder.

If your shoulder does not respond to conservative treatments, surgery may be recommended.  Dr. Southard will only offer you a second surgery if he feels that the procedure can be successfully aimed at alleviating your shoulder pain, improving the condition of your shoulder and increasing the functionality of your shoulder. 

Some examples of treatment include: stiffness may be treated by stretching exercises or surgery to remove adhesion, some revision surgery may be performed to improve stability, balance tissues, and correct loose implants.  Shoulder dysfunction following rotator cuff repair may need a revision repair, however shoulder arthroplasty may be discussed. A non-healing fracture may need revision, and or shoulder arthroplasty in the case poorly healed proximal humerus fractures. 

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons
  • Orthopaedic Trauma Association
  • Weill Cornell Medicine
  • AANA Advancing the Scope