North Hampshire Hospital
The Hampshire Clinic
Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK

Mr John Britton FRCS
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

Information for patients undergoing orthopaedic treatment


Advice on Subacromial Decompression

Before embarking on subacromial decompression you should be aware of the following facts. If you have any other questions you should ask your surgeon for further information.


  • Relief of pain: Approximately 85% of patients can expect to lose all, or virtually all, of their shoulder pain.
  • Range of movement: The range of shoulder movement will normally return to normal provided your rotator cuff is intact. If the decompression is being done to treat a cuff tear you may always have some limitation in your ability to elevate your arm.


General risks associated with any surgery

  • Cardiovascular problems: Heart attack and stroke can occasionally be caused by anaesthesia and surgery. The risks of this complication are normally exceedingly small in healthy individuals. The risk may be greater if you have pre-existing disease, in which case your anaesthetist / surgeon will discuss this with you.

  • Thromboembolism:     Blood clots may sometimes form in the veins of your legs, a condition known as 'deep vein thrombosis.' This may cause excessive swelling of your legs and may require treatment with blood thinning drugs. Extremely rarely the clot may become detached and travel to the lungs; this is a potentially fatal complication known as a 'pulmonary embolus.' There are some conditions in which the risk of thromboembolism is increased (e.g. patients on the contraceptive pill or HRT), in which case you may be given medication to reduce the risk.

  • Infection:    Infection can complicate any surgery, but is rare following arthroscopy (risk much less than 1%). It may be possible to treat this with antibiotics alone, although further surgery to drain the infection may be necessary.

Specific risks of subacromial decompression

  • Failure to relieve symptoms: Up to 15% of patients do not respond to surgery. The majority of these patients find their symptoms similar to those prior to surgery.

  • Progression of pathology: Subacromial decompression will not necessarily prevent progression of rotator cuff disease. Deterioration in symptoms may therefore occur at a later date.

Surgery details

  • Surgery will be done under general anaesthesia. Your anaesthetist will discuss this with you. You may also have a local anaesthetic injection to control post-operative pain; again this will be discussed prior to surgery

  • The operation will take about 1 hour

  • You will normally have 2 and sometimes 3 small incisions over the shoulder. These will either be closed with a suture or a skin tape

  • You will normally return home within 12 hours of surgery; this may mean an overnight stay if your surgery is done in the afternoon


  • You will be encouraged to move your shoulder as much as possible after surgery. You may be given a sling for comfort, but unless advised to the contrary you should try to remove this as soon as possible

  • To help shoulder movement a course of physiotherapy will normally be advised

  • You can expect increased pain from your shoulder for about 2 to 6 weeks

  • Most people are able to drive within 2 weeks of surgery

  • If you have a light job you will normally be able to return to this in about 2 weeks; manual labour however will probably nor be possible for about 6 weeks

  • Full recovery normally takes 3 to 6 months


For further information please see

John Britton FRCS
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

J M Britton 2007

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