Type of Surgery

Acromioplasty - Changing the Shape of the Acromion

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Last updated: 01/13/2010

The shoulder joint is one of the most amazing joints in the body. It allows the arm to move in almost any direction. The shoulder joint not only provides a wide range of motion, but it allows the arm to move under force and with precision and accuracy. In order to accomplish this feat, the joint is organized in a complex array of bones, muscles, and tendons including a bone called the acromion. Because of its ability to cause problems with the function of the joint, the acromion is often the target of an orthopedic surgery called acromioplasty.


An acromioplasty, also called acromion smoothing surgery, is a surgical procedure that changes the shape of the acromion. The acromion is a bone near the clavicle (collarbone) and above the shoulder. It is associated with the rotator cuff-a group of four muscles that move the upper arm. An acromioplasty procedure involves the shaving or cutting of this bone.

There are several reasons that a person might need an acromioplasty. The most common reason is because of arthritis in the shoulder joint. The acromion and the tissues surrounding it can become inflamed. This occurs through overuse and as a consequence of age. As the acromion rubs against other structures, it causes pain and inflammation over a long period of time. This inflammation and pain limits the movement of the shoulder joint. In severe cases, shoulder and upper arm movement can become almost nonfunctional.

Acromioplasty surgery attempts to correct this chronic inflammation and pain by removing part of the bone and reducing the area against which the acromion can rub. Also, the acromioplasty allows the rotator cuff to move more smoothly, which improves range of motion. With less of the acromion present, the nerves exiting the neck (brachial plexus and others) have more room to make their way to the arm.

Since the acromion itself is not terribly important to shoulder function, removing part of it in an acromioplasty surgery does not lead to functional deficits. In fact, patients report a rapid relief of shoulder pain and an improvement in shoulder mobility soon after acromioplasty recovery.

Most acromioplasty procedures are performed laparoscopically, which means thin surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions in the shoulder joint. Laparoscopic surgery on a joint is called arthroscopic surgery. Bone fragments that are shaved from the acromion are removed through the small incision as well. In terms of acromioplasty recovery, the laparoscopic approach leads to a much easier and faster return to work and normal activities. Regardless of the type of acromioplasty, the shoulder may need to be held in a sling for sometime after the procedure and the area may need to be iced to minimize swelling.

Another very important part of acromioplasty recovery is physical therapy. Shoulder physical therapy improves the range of motion of the shoulder and rehabilitates the muscles of the shoulder joint. Unfortunately many people enjoy such a profound relief of symptoms after acromioplasty surgery that they skip or refuse physical therapy. Sadly this leads to long term problems with joint mobility and shoulder strength.


Last Updated: 01/13/2010

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