#treatment - Shoulder

Subacromial Decompression

  • Arthroscopic subacromial decompression is a keyhole operation which aims to restore shoulder function and relieve pain
  • The speed of recovery will depend on a number of factors
  • Good quality rehabilitation is the key to a successful outcome

What are the aims of surgery?

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression aims to address symptoms of impingement in order to restore shoulder function and relieve pain and discomfort.




This is a skeleton model of the left shoulder.
The arrow depicts the subacromial space.

What needs to be done prior to surgery?

The decision to have a subacromial decompression should only be made after thorough discussion with your surgeon. Usually the surgery is offered after non-operative treatments have been tried and offered temporary relief only. You should be satisfied that you have all the information you require in order to make an informed decision and that you are aware of both the potential risks and benefits of the planned procedure.

You should have a physical examination at the time of the initial consultation where the preoperative function of your shoulder is assessed. Investigations such as x-rays, ultrasounds and MRI scans may need to be arranged to confirm the diagnosis and allow your surgeon to plan the procedure. It is important that you fully disclose any health problems you may have had. Some may interfere with surgery, anaesthesia or aftercare. You should inform your surgeon and anaesthetist of previous allergies or reactions to antibiotics, anaesthetics or other medicines and in particular of any problems with prolonged bleeding or excessive bruising. Anti-inflammatories or other drugs which increase bleeding may need to be stopped prior to surgery.

You will need to undergo our preadmission process to ensure you are fit enough to proceed with surgery and to have a tailor made plan to guide you in adjusting to medications you may be on around the time of your surgery.

It is generally advisable to stop smoking to improve your overall health. It also helps to stop smoking around the time of an operation as smoking impairs wound healing.

If you decide to have surgery, your surgeon will ask you to sign a consent form. Read it carefully and raise any questions. It may be necessary for additional procedures to be performed at the time of surgery if the arthroscopic findings vary from the imaging studies.

As you may need help with you daily activities after the operation you should make the necessary arrangements prior to surgery.

What does the operation involve?

The arthroscopic surgical technique involves making several (usually 2 small incisions less that 1cm long around the shoulder so that the subacromial space and rotator cuff tendons can be viewed. The procedure is performed using an arthroscope which is a thin instrument attached to a camera and light source. It allows the operating surgeon to see inside the shoulder joint and perform the procedure while viewing a video monitor.

Soft tissue clearance from the underside of the acromion

Soft tissue clearance from the underside of the acromion

The arthroscope is inserted into the subacromial space. Working through other small incisions, the surgeon uses small instruments to remove inflamed tissues. Small burrs are used to remove any bone spurs that may be pressing on the rotator cuff tendons.

Initial bony resection viewed from the back

Initial bony resection viewed from the back

The incisions are usually closed with stitches that may need to be removed. You will be given specific instructions regarding this.

The details of your anaesthetic will be discussed with the anaesthetist who will be taking care of you alongside the surgeon. This usually happens on the day of surgery.

After surgery, you will be transferred from the operating theatre to the recovery room where nursing staff will monitor your recovery and administer further pain relief if needed.

Completed resection viewed from the side

Completed resection viewed from the side

What happens after the operation?

Your arm may be in a sling or shoulder immobiliser. This is to protect the shoulder, relieve pain and maintain it in the correct position. You will usually be able to go home on the day of surgery but occasionally an overnight stay may be required. You will be unable to drive, so should arrange for someone else to drive you home.

Follow-up will be arranged to review your wounds within the first two weeks. This can be arranged at your local GP surgery or with your surgeon. Stitches (if used) are usually removed at this visit.

What rehabilitation is needed?

While the shoulder is healing some pain and discomfort should be expected. You may need to use pain-killers during this period. It may be difficult to perform some day to-day activities for some weeks following the procedure.

Your physiotherapist will design an exercise program for you. This is important to your recovery should begin shortly after surgery. It starts with gentle exercises that gradually help you regain shoulder movement. In uncomplicated cases the protective sling can be removed 48 hours after surgery. Your surgeon will advise you about a timescale for return to work and resumption of normal activities.

Recovery takes time. It commonly takes take several weeks for strength, comfort and full function of your shoulder to return to normal.

What are the likely outcomes of surgery?

In uncomplicated cases a good outcome in terms of pain relief and improved function can be achieved in around 80% of people.

What complications are associated with the procedure?

As with all surgical procedures there are risks associated with the procedure despite the highest standards of practice. Complications can occur that may have permanent effects. It is not possible to outline every possible side effect or rare complication, however, it is important that you have enough information about the possible complications of the procedure to fully weigh up the benefits and risks of surgery.

Possible complications of surgery include wound infection (treatment with antibiotics may be needed, and a second or third operation may be needed to treat the infection). Pain, discomfort or bleeding from around the incisions may occur. Most scars fade and flatten, but some may become “keloid” and remain raised, itchy, thick and red. Further treatment may be needed to try to improve the scarring.

In unusual cases, pain may not resolve over the long term. Persistent stiffness of the shoulder joint may require additional treatment. Injury to nerves close to the surgical area can occur. This may require further surgery.

Patient info

Find out important information before your treatment.

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression (ASAD)