Arthroscopic subacromial decompression

Subacromial decompression is an operation used to treat a frozen shoulder (or ‘shoulder impingement’). Arthroscopic describes the minimally invasive ‘keyhole’ method of carrying out the procedure, using an instrument inserted through a small incision.

When other treatments for a frozen shoulder have proved unsuccessful at dealing with the symptoms, surgery may be required.

Arthroscopic (or ‘keyhole’) surgery is a less invasive procedure than open surgery and usually has excellent results with a shorter recovery time. During the procedure the joint, and the area surrounding it, is inspected and treated using an arthroscope inserted through three or more small incisions in the skin around your shoulder.

If you’re suffering from subacromial impingement, the space between your shoulder blade and tendons reduces in size, causing the bone to rub against the tendons when you raise your arm, restricting movement. Subacromial decompression can open up this space by removing any swollen or misplaced tissue or bone, resulting in improved movement of the shoulder joint.

This operation is usually carried out as day surgery which means you’ll be able to return home on the same day, but you won’t be able to drive yourself.

The procedure will be carried out under a general anaesthetic so you’ll be asleep during the operation. You may also have a local anaesthetic in the nerves of the shoulder to reduce discomfort following the operation.

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression usually takes about an hour, depending on the exact cause of your condition and what needs to be carried out to treat it. The arthroscope will give the surgeon a good view of the subacromial space within your shoulder and allow any damaged or abnormal areas to be repaired or reshaped.

At the end of the operation, the incisions will usually be closed with stitches.

After the operation your shoulder will be supported in a sling and cold packs may be applied to help reduce swelling and pain. We’ll help manage any discomfort with painkillers. You’ll probably need to take several days off work, depending on your occupation.

After the operation, most patients experience much more normal movement in the shoulder joint and reduced pain. Usually patients see the most improvements in the first six months.

A programme of physiotherapy will usually be suggested to help speed recovery and maintain improvement in movement.

As with any surgical procedure there is some risk of infection of the wound, or bleeding after the operation. Rarely, there can be damage to tendons or nerves. The operation is usually a very successful treatment for a frozen shoulder, but it’s not uncommon for symptoms to recur.

 Treatment options will depend on the severity of your condition. Painkillers can be used to manage the pain and physiotherapy and corticosteroid injections may be suggested before surgery is recommended.

Consultant headshot

Mr Christopher Brooks

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Consultant headshot

Mr Hemant Thakral

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Get in touch with Benenden Hospital

You can access treatment in a number of ways, as a self-paying or privately insured patient, a Benenden member, or as an NHS patient. In all cases, you just need to ask your GP to refer you to Benenden Hospital. For general enquiries, contact us below.

You can access treatment in a number of ways, as a self-paying or privately insured patient, a Benenden member, or as an NHS patient. In all cases, you just need to ask your GP to refer you to Benenden Hospital. For general enquiries, contact us below.