8 Types of Shoulder Surgeries

Shoulder surgery is often necessary for many common shoulder problems. Procedures can range from minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures, where instruments are inserted through keyhole-sized incisions in your shoulder, to more traditional ​open surgeries that involve a scalpel and sutures.

This article will explain eight types of shoulder surgeries and the pros, cons, limitations, and appropriate uses for each option.

Arthroscopy for Impingement Syndrome

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One of the most common reasons for shoulder surgery is the treatment of impingement syndrome. This is a condition in which the tendons of your rotator cuff are trapped and compressed during movement. Over time, this causes damage to the tendons, as well as the cushions inside the joint space (called bursa).

Impingement syndrome can also be described as rotator cuff tendonitis and bursitis. 

The arthroscopic procedure used to correct impingement is known as a subacromial decompression. The aim of the surgery is to increase the space between the rotator cuff and the top of the shoulder (known as the acromion).

When performing subacromial decompression, your surgeon may remove the bursa alone or some of the undersurfaces of the acromion. Doing so creates space for the rotator cuff to glide without getting pinched between bone.

This surgical procedure may be performed alone or as part of a rotator cuff surgery

Arthroscopic SLAP Repair

A SLAP tear is an injury to the rim of cartilage that encircles the shoulder socket known as the labrum. 

The term SLAP stands for "Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior." A SLAP tear, therefore, affects both the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the labrum. This portion of the labrum is especially important as it serves as the attachment point for the biceps tendon.

Arthroscopic surgery may be used to restore the labrum back to its position at the rim of the shoulder socket. Once repositioned, sutures (stitches) are used to secure the bone to the cartilage. If the damage extends into the biceps tendon, more surgery may be needed.

Arthroscopy for Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation injury occurs when the ball of the shoulder joint comes out of the socket. 

In young athletes, the damage most commonly occurs at the labrum. To stabilize the shoulder after dislocation, a type of surgery known as a Bankart repair can attach the labrum to the joint capsule to hold the ball in place.

Other cases involve generalized laxity (looseness) of the shoulder ligaments. This can lead to a condition known as multidirectional instability. With this, the shoulder joint comes in and out of the socket very easily. Surgery is used to tighten the joint capsule.

Repeated dislocations can lead to severe shoulder damage and require major surgery to keep the joint in place. While there are several different ways to achieve this, the procedures typically involve repositioning bone around the shoulder to hold the ball more securely in place.

Arthroscopy for Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is the second most common cause of shoulder injury next to a rotator cuff tear. When a frozen shoulder occurs, the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint becomes tight and contracted.

While the condition can usually be treated with non-surgical means, there are rare instances in which surgical treatment is required. The goal of surgery is to loosen the contracted tissue to allow the shoulder to move more freely. This is done by cutting the capsule all the way around the ball of the shoulder. It can be a challenging procedure to do, as the space inside the joint becomes extremely tight.

Another challenge is that once the capsule is cut, the body responds by making new scar tissue. Aggressive physical therapy is essential to restoring the shoulder's full range of motion.

Rotator Cuff Repairs

One of the most common surgical procedures for the shoulder is a rotator cuff repair.

The goal of the surgery is to identify the damaged part of the rotator cuff and to clean and reattach any torn or damaged tendons. Once the healthy tissue is found, the surgeon will use different techniques to restore the tendon without stretching the remaining tissues.

The traditional approach, called an open rotator cuff repair, involves a surgical incision several inches long to detach the surrounding muscle and repair the rotator cuff directly. A newer minimally-invasive technique may be performed for smaller injuries.

There is also a hybrid version, called a mini-open rotator cuff repair, which can be used if the damage is severe. This involves the placement of anchors in the shoulder bone. The tendons can be securely reattached to these with sutures.

There may be circumstances when a repair is not possible. Extensive separations, known as massive rotator cuff tears, are difficult to restore as the tissues can retract like a rubber band and experience rapid cell death (atrophy).

Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Repairs

The acromioclavicular joint, commonly known as the AC joint, is the junction of the end of the clavicle (collarbone) and acromion. There are several problems that can occur at the AC joint.

The first is that it can wear out. This can occur as a result of arthritis, usually at the site of previous injury. It can also deteriorate due to a repetitive use injury, such as weightlifting (a condition referred to as distal clavicle osteolysis).

If either of these conditions occurs, open surgery may be performed to remove the end of the collarbone and widen the AC joint space.

Instability can also occur at the AC joint, causing progressive damage to the ligaments that connect the clavicle to the end of the shoulder blade. This can eventually lead to shoulder separation. While shoulder separation can often be treated without surgery, severe cases may require surgery to repair or reconstruct ligaments that support the end of the clavicle.

Shoulder Replacement

Shoulder replacement surgery is typically reserved for advanced arthritis of the shoulder joint but can also be used for complex fractures and other problems that cannot be repaired with other techniques.

A typical shoulder replacement will replace the ball and socket joint with an artificial ball made of metal and a socket made of plastic. 

In cases where only the top part of the arm bone (humerus) is broken or the socket of the arthritic shoulder is still intact, a partial replacement, known as hemiarthroplasty, may suffice. Hemiarthroplasty just replaces the ball of the shoulder, leaving the socket untouched.

Another option is the reverse shoulder replacement. This surgery reverses the location of the ball and socket so that the replaced ball goes where the socket was, and the replaced socket goes where the ball was. The surgery can provide a advantage for people with a rotator cuff tear arthropathy, in which both the labrum and rotator cuff are severely damaged.

Biceps Tendon Surgery

The bicep is a muscle on the front of your arm. At the top end is a tendon, called the long head of the bicep. This tendon attaches the muscle to the shoulder by traveling through the rotator cuff and attaching itself to the labrum. This makes the long head of the bicep a common target for shoulder problems.

Biceps tendon surgery can be performed alone or as part of a rotator cuff repair. There are generally two approaches used. One is to sever (cut) the tendon connection inside the shoulder joint and reattach it outside of the shoulder joint.

The other, called a tenotomy, simply ​severs the tendon without reattaching it. You might think this would affect the bicep's strength and function, but it doesn't. In fact, there are numerous professional athletes who have had a tenotomy and returned to their competitive careers, often faster than if they had undergone surgical reattachment.


The shoulder is prone to many different types of injuries. Often, these require surgical intervention. Procedures range from minimally invasive options to open surgeries. In some cases, an artificial shoulder replacement is necessary.

A Word From Verywell

All of these surgical procedures can be performed safely and effectively but they are not without their risks. While complications are uncommon, they may include infection, tissue scarring (fibrosis), and, in rare cases, sepsis. Proper post-surgical care and rehabilitation can reduce the risk of complications.

Before having any surgery, speak with your surgeon about the risks and benefits of the procedure and the results you can expect. Take your time to make an informed choice and seek a second opinion if needed. It is important to manage your expectations and fully understand what is required of you during post-surgical rehabilitation.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.