Should You Get Subacromial Decompression To Treat Shoulder Pain

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Can arthroscopic subacromial decompression relieve shoulder pain? Read on to find out more about the procedure.
RELATED: Shoulder Joint Structure, Muscles, And How To Treat Effusion | Glenohumeral Joint
In this article:

  1. Is a Subacromial Decompression Surgery the Answer to Shoulder Pain Relief?
  2. What Are the Different Types of Chronic Shoulder Conditions?
  3. What Is Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression?
  4. What Are the Disadvantages of Subacromial Decompression Surgery?
  5. What Are the Alternatives to Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression?

Learning About Shoulder Impingement

Is a Subacromial Decompression Surgery the Answer to Shoulder Pain Relief?

For people with intense shoulder pain and increasing stiffness, seeking a “quick fix” is tempting. The procedure known as subacromial decompression may be the right option for many people, but no operation is without drawbacks.
For people who want to explore other options, more holistic treatment may be preferable.

What Are the Different Types of Chronic Shoulder Conditions?

There are different types of chronic shoulder conditions. For example, the sharp aches that arise when raising the arm indicate shoulder impingement.
Discomfort while putting weight on the affected shoulder is another clue. That issue usually makes itself known by interrupting sleep.
If a patient has stiffness or weakness when trying to reach above the head or to the side, shoulder impingement may be the culprit. This affects the rotator cuff area.
“Subacromial” means a bone or something else obstructs the tendons, ligaments, or bursa under the shoulder blade. This pressure leads to a limited range of motion and discomfort.
More than one factor can lead to shoulder impingement. Is there a job or hobby that requires repetitive motion of the shoulder? If so, the area can become compressed over time.
Arthritis and injury can also lead to the problem. Some people even have abnormal bone structures. These bone spurs lead to pressure on tissues, ligaments, and bursa.
Bursa Definition: This is a sac-like cavity in the joints filled with fluid. They act as cushions in between points of friction within the body.

What Is Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression?

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression might be a confusing term when first heard.
“Arthroscopic” refers to a kind of surgery performed with a small camera inserted into a joint. In this case, it is the “subacromial” joint, an area under the shoulder blade.
“Decompression” means relieving pressure on the area by repositioning or reshaping the bones and tendon rubbing against one another.
This type of shoulder surgery is generally an outpatient procedure done on general anesthesia.
Doctors follow the following steps when conducting subacromial decompression surgery:

  • Subacromial decompression protocol starts with a few small cuts made in the shoulder area.
  • Next, the surgeon inserts the tube-like arthroscope. The arthroscope sends pictures that guide the surgeon.
  • After this, the surgeon can use tiny instruments that reshape the shoulder bones. If needed, tendons will also be moved or repaired during the decompression surgery.

What Are the Disadvantages of Subacromial Decompression Surgery?

Before undergoing subacromial decompression surgery, it’s important to consider potential drawbacks. The procedure involves general anesthesia, and sometimes local anesthesia.
There is always a small risk of serious complications whenever any kind of anesthesia is used.
There can also be moderate to severe discomfort following the surgery. The amount will vary from patient to patient. In most cases, discomfort only lasts a few days and can be treated with over the counter painkillers.
Recovery time happens in stages. Most people can return to normal life a few days after surgery. But full recovery takes up to four months.
For people with labor-intensive jobs or who pursue sports, this long recovery time can be problematic.
For about eight out of 10 patients, the procedure will help treat the shoulder impingement. Obviously, this leaves a 10 to 20 percent chance that the subacromial decompression will be a partial or total failure.
Each patient will have to weigh the pros and cons with his her or physician.
RELATED: What Is Rotator Cuff Tendinitis And How To Treat It

What Are the Alternatives to Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression?

Physiotherapist doing shoulder exercises with patient | Should You Get Subacromial Decompression to Treat Shoulder Pain
Physical therapy treatment for shoulder pain

A variety of biological factors causes shoulder discomfort. That’s why it’s not always clear if a subacromial decompression will help.
Fortunately, even pro-surgery doctors encourage patients to try less aggressive treatments first.
This gives the medical team a chance to determine if inflammation or a similar problem is the primary underlying cause. If so, it can often be treated without surgery involving cutting into bony areas under general anesthesia.
Among the potential treatments patients can try instead of arthroscopic subacromial decompression are:

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist tailors specific shoulder movements that help build flexibility and ease discomfort. Over time, swelling may decrease, and range of motion can be restored.
Along with PT sessions, patients learn exercises to do at home.
Physical therapy also teaches people how to undertake many of the tasks of daily life with less aching. (For those who do opt for a subacromial decompression, physical therapy can also help speed recovery.)

Heat and Cold Therapy

Ice packs and heating pads promote healing and relieve discomfort. Using ice packs numbs pain and reduces swelling. Heat, on the other hand, soothes aching muscles.
The best protocol for shoulder impingement is to focus on cold therapy for several days first. Follow this procedure:

  • Place the ice pack on the affected shoulder for about 20 minutes.
  • Repeat this treatment every few hours.
  • Once swelling seems to have gone down, heating pads can soothe the same area.
  • Wait a few days to start heat therapy. Some patients find the most relief by alternating heat and cold.

Joint Support Foods and Supplements

An anti-inflammatory diet can be helpful for people with rotator cuff aches and stiffness. Avoid processed foods and eliminate fried meats and dishes with trans fat. These types of dishes often cause joint swelling.
In their place, try foods known for decreasing inflammation. These include fish species high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon.
Other helpful foods include cherries, blueberries, red peppers, and low-fat yogurt. Spices like turmeric and ginger can also be helpful.
Also, consider taking a joint support supplement. Look for ones which use a natural peptide protein sequence. This will encourage collagen production and also reduce swelling.
Do you want to learn how long it takes to recover from arthroscopic shoulder surgery? Watch the video by StoneSprings Hospital Center below:

Each patient needs to decide for himself or herself if subacromial decompression surgery is the best choice. A reputable health care professional offers realistic outcomes for the surgery.
For those who want to avoid the decompression procedure, doctors can recommend a physical therapist. The medical team may also suggest home treatments and specialized diets, for those seeking the most holistic options possible.
Is the subacromial decompression protocol the best option for chronic shoulder pain? Or can it be handled by more holistic approaches instead? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Should You Get Subacromial Decompression to Treat Shoulder Pain

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