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How should I prepare for shoulder or elbow replacement?

Once you’ve decided to go ahead with surgery, your name will be put on a waiting list and the hospital will contact you, usually within 6–12 weeks.

It's a good idea to have a dental check-up and get any problems dealt with well before your operation. This is because bacteria from dental problems could cause an infection if they get into the bloodstream.

Pre-admission clinic

Most hospitals invite you to a pre-admission clinic, usually about 2–3 weeks before the surgery. A pre-admission clinic is a chance to discuss any questions or worries you have about the operation and find out more about preparing for, and recovering from, surgery. During the clinic you’ll be examined to make sure you’re generally well enough for the anaesthetic and the operation. This may involve the following tests:

  • blood tests to check for anaemia and to make sure your kidneys are working properly
  • x-rays of the affected body part
  • a urine sample to rule out infection
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG) scan to make sure your heart is healthy.

The hospital team will probably tell you at this stage whether the operation will go ahead as planned.

You should discuss with your surgeon, anaesthetist or nurse at the pre-admission clinic whether you should stop taking any of your medications before you have surgery.

You may also be invited to see an occupational therapist to discuss how you’ll manage at home in the weeks after your operation. They can advise you on aids and appliances that might help. If you're not invited to see an occupational therapist and you're worried about coping at home after the operation then you should ask about this at your pre-admission clinic.

In some hospitals you’ll see a physiotherapist in this clinic as well. You’ll be able to discuss your exercise regime before and after your operation.

Going into hospital

Before you go into hospital you should think about the following:

  • Do you have someone to take you to the hospital and bring you home after the operation?
  • Is everything set up at home ready for your return - is everything you need within easy reach?
  • Do you have any special equipment ready for when you come home?
  • Do you need someone to stay with you for a while after your operation?

You’ll probably be admitted to hospital early on the day of surgery, but it may be earlier if you haven’t attended a pre-admission clinic or if you have another medical condition that needs to be cleared up before surgery can go ahead. You’ll be asked to sign a form consenting to surgery.

Just before your operation you’ll be taken (usually in your bed, but you may be walked) from the admission ward to the operating theatre. If you're feeling worried, you may be given a sedative medication (a pre-med) while you’re in the ward, which will make you feel a little drowsy.

You’ll then be given an anaesthetic. This may be either a general anaesthetic or a local anaesthetic (regional block):

  • A general anaesthetic will affect your whole body and make you lose consciousness or put you 'to sleep'.
  • A local anaesthetic doesn't put you to sleep but stops you feeling anything in the affected area. It's usually given by an injection into the base of your neck or in the armpit. Some anaesthetists use an ultrasound scan to help guide the needle to the right spot. You can take a book or some music along to help you relax during the operation, but you may also be sedated if need be.

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