What is shoulder decompression?

A shoulder impingement at the top of the shoulder is when the tendons rub on the shoulder blade. This usually occurs when the small, fluid-filled sac (bursa) in this space between the tendon and shoulder blade, which usually allows for free gliding, becomes inflamed due to arthritis or overuse. It can also be due to a rotator cuff injury. Shoulder decompression is a surgery to release a shoulder impingement by opening up the space between the shoulder blade and tendon by removing any swollen or inflamed bursa, and any bony spurs.

What does treatment involve?

For some, shoulder impingement may be managed with physiotherapy, steroid injections and anti-inflammatory medications. More severe cases will require a shoulder decompression. This surgery is usually done under general anaesthesia. By making an incision into the top of the shoulder joint, the deltoid muscle can be detached, and the impingement can be accessed. Dr Heymans may also repair damaged tendons or ligaments at the same time. Loose fragments and bone spurs are then removed from the joint, and after smoothing the area so that the tendon cannot be pinched again, the tendon is placed above the rotator cuff.

What can I expect in terms of recovery?

Swelling, pain and stiffness in the shoulder are common after a shoulder decompression. Your arm will be placed in a sling after surgery for the next 6 weeks. This is done to immobilise the shoulder while it heals. After a few weeks, the sling is removed, and through physiotherapy, you will strengthen and enhance the mobility of the shoulder. You should be able to return to normal activities in 6 - 8 weeks of surgery. It may take up to 3 months to regain the strength of your shoulder and fully recover.