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Shoulder decompression (or subacromial depression) is an operation to cleaning and repair damaged tendons around the upper arm and shoulder area.

The space between the top of your upper arm and the small bone attached to the top of your shoulder is called the acromial space. Sometimes repetitive overhead activities such as golf or reaching overhead cause swelling or irritation in this area. If conservative treatment for pain in your acromial area is not successful your consultant may recommend subacromial decompression.

What happens during subacromial decompression?

Subacromial decompression surgery is usually performed under general anaesthetic and usually takes about one hour. Most surgeons perform this procedure arthroscopically (key hole surgery).

Your surgeon will make several small incisions (cuts) around your shoulder area. A miniature telescope is inserted into the joint area providing full view via a monitor. Other surgical instruments are inserted to clean the area and repair any damaged tendons. Any wounds will be closed using stitches or steri-strips.

After subacromial decompression

Most patients are able to go home once the effects of general anaesthetic have worn off. Please be sure and arrange for someone to drive you home as you will not be able to drive until released to do so by your surgeon.

You will be given medication to help control any pain. Continue to take your medication as prescribed. Icing your shoulder may help ease any discomfort.

Your arm may be in a sling. This can usually be discarded 1-2 weeks after surgery. Physiotherapy will help you strengthen your shoulder muscles and increase range of motion.

It can take 6-9 months to fully recover from subacromial decompression. Be sure and discuss any return to work with your consultant.

Most people make a good recovery from subacromial decompression. As with any surgery there can be complications:

Specific complications of subacromial decompression may include:

  • Persistent stiffness or pain
  • Damage to shoulder blade or joint
  • Nerve damage
  • Fracture following surgery (rare)

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