What is shoulder decompression surgery?

Shoulder (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Josh Pesavento)

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression, also called shoulder decompression surgery, is a treatment for shoulder impingement syndrome. In this condition, the rotator cuff tendon becomes caught between a bone called the acromion and the ball-joint of the shoulder. It is characterized by inflammation, pain and reduced range of motion.

When It Is Used

Shoulder decompression surgery is used when medical management, such as medications, cortisone injections and physical therapy, have not remedied the condition.


Arthroscopic decompression surgery involves making small incisions to insert a small camera under the skin to visually examine the shoulder tissues. After the examination, bone spurs that are damaging the shoulder tissues may be removed using the arthroscope.


According to the Cleveland Clinic, arthroscopic shoulder decompression is a low-risk procedure. It may result in post-operative infection, bleeding, nerve damage or shoulder stiffness, however.


The recovery period may last between a few weeks to a few months before the symptoms are fully resolved. Your doctor may prescribe a mild painkiller for the first week following surgery.

Physical Therapy

You may be advised to see a physical therapist following surgery, or given exercises to do to minimize swelling.

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