Management of Shoulder Hemiarthroplasty in a Patient With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Study Design:

Case report.


Rehabilitation after shoulder hemiarthroplasty for rotator cuff tear arthropathy (RCTA) represents a significant challenge to physical therapists. Limited goals have been defined for this patient population and include no pain or slight pain at rest, moderate pain with vigorous activity, shoulder external rotation active range of motion (AROM) greater than 20°, and shoulder abduction AROM greater than 90°.

Case Description:

The patient was a 60-year-old female elementary school teacher with functional class III adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis, who came to physical therapy 2 weeks after undergoing a hemiarthroplasty for RCTA of the right shoulder. Physical therapy included 33 treatment sessions involving 4 to 11 exercises each session. All sessions were performed under the direct supervision of a physical therapist utilizing specially designed equipment. Physical therapy emphasized early active assisted elevation range of motion (ROM), graded progressive exercise, and functional training. All exercises were performed in a pain-free ROM or a ROM that did not increase shoulder pain.


Following physical therapy, subjective pain scale at rest was 0/10 and during vigorous activity 1/10 to 2/10. Shoulder AROM was normal and shoulder rotation and elevation strength was good. There was a significant improvement in shoulder proprioception and the patient demonstrated a negative belly press test for subscapularis muscle integrity. Additionally, the patient's score on the self-report section of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons Assessment Form increased from 0% at the initial examination to 70% at discharge.


Despite limited expectations, this patient achieved normal shoulder ROM and near normal shoulder strength after 14 weeks of physical therapy. Overall, an early, aggressive, progressively graded exercise program appears to be a safe and effective form of treatment after shoulder hemiarthroplasty for RCTA.

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