Subacromial decompression

Subacromial decompression (or acromioplasty) is used to treat shoulder impingement. The surgery reduces the pressure on the tendons of your shoulder joint by removing or shaving bony outgrowths or removing damaged tissue.

About subacromial decompression

Shoulder impingement is when the tendons in your shoulder joint are being pinched due to swelling or bony outgrowths.

Impingement can be caused by injury, overuse or degenerative conditions of the bone such as arthritis.

The symptoms include pain in the joint, weakness in your arm and restricted mobility.

If your symptoms have not been resolved with non-surgical treatment such as rest, physiotherapy and steroid injections, your surgeon may suggest surgery to remove swollen or damaged tissue and bone from your shoulder joint.

Different types of procedure

How surgery is carried out

Subacromial decompression is most often done as a keyhole (arthroscopic) surgery, using a narrow telescopic camera.

It’s usually done under general anaesthesia, which means that you’ll be asleep during the operation.

Your surgeon make small cuts over your shoulder and insert the camera and surgical instruments.

They will then cut off and smooth down any bony outgrowths or damaged cartilage in your shoulder joint.

They may also need to repair damaged tendons with stitches or cut away soft tissue that is causing impingement.

Your surgeon will then close the cuts with stitches and apply a dressing.

After subacromial decompression

You should be able to go home as soon as you have recovered from the anaesthetic.

You will need to keep your arm in a sling for a few days after the operation.

You can use ice to reduce the swelling and take over-the-counter painkillers to manage any pain for the first week after the operation.

Your physiotherapist will give you exercises to improve mobility and help strengthen your shoulder as it heals.

You should avoid any strenuous activity for at least one month, although it could be longer, depending on the type of operation that you have had.

How long it will be before you can return to work also depends on the type of operation you had and and your job. Ask your surgeon or physiotherapist for advice about returning to work and other activities.

It usually takes up to four months to make a full recovery and return to active sports.

“I had a great experience at the Cromwell Hospital; the staff were amazing, and is another level of professionalism compared to other hospitals I’ve stayed in.”

Lorne, Bupa Cromwell patient

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Published: 6 February 2020 | Review: 6 February 2023

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email or telephone 020 7460 5901.