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4 Treatment Options for Shoulder Avascular Necrosis

Avascular necrosis is a serious medical problem that occurs when a lack of blood supply leads to the death of bone tissue. Also known as osteonecrosis (literally “bone death”), avascular necrosis usually affects the ends of long bones that make up your major joints, including your shoulders.

James M. Lee Jr., MD, and our team at Orange Orthopaedic Associates use the most advanced techniques and therapies for shoulder avascular necrosis, including arthroscopic management and shoulder replacement

Here, we explain why avascular necrosis occurs, what symptoms it causes, and four potential treatments that can correct it.

Basic facts about avascular necrosis

Shoulder avascular necrosis is a complex condition that’s still not fully understood. Several underlying issues can lead to avascular necrosis, including:

Avascular necrosis responds best when we treat it early, before widespread bone death occurs. Recognizing the symptoms helps you know when to seek an evaluation to confirm a diagnosis or determine an alternate cause of your symptoms.

Chronic pain is the most obvious symptom associated with avascular necrosis of the shoulder. Pain typically radiates to the elbow, and it’s usually accompanied by decreased range of motion in the joint. Pain can be mild initially, worsening as the condition evolves.

Treating avascular necrosis in your shoulder

Avascular necrosis is a serious medical problem that needs treatment as soon as possible. The type of treatment you receive depends in part on how far the disease has progressed.

Conservative (nonsurgical) treatment

In the early stages of shoulder avascular necrosis, we may be able to manage the condition with conservative treatments, including physical therapy and modification of activities to prevent overstraining your shoulder joint.

Decompression surgery

Also called core decompression, humeral head decompression surgery may be effective if you have early stage avascular necrosis. In this surgery, our goal is to relieve symptoms and prevent progression by reducing pressure on the bone marrow and stimulating the growth of new blood vessels to improve circulation.

Joint resurfacing

Joint resurfacing surgery may be appropriate for younger, active patients with limited lesions on the humeral head. In this procedure, Dr. Lee removes the damaged part of the bone and replaces it with synthetic implant materials designed to restore function and prevent further damage.

Joint replacement

While decompression and joint resurfacing can help some patients with moderate disease, patients with advanced disease benefit from shoulder replacement surgery. 

In this surgery, Dr. Lee replaces the components of the shoulder joint, eliminating diseased bone and replacing the joint with artificial components designed to function like a normal joint.

Shoulder replacement surgery overcomes the underlying cause of avascular necrosis, because it replaces the bone tissue with artificial components that don’t rely on circulation to stay functional. Following surgery, physical therapy helps restore shoulder strength and function.

Relief for chronic shoulder pain

Avascular necrosis is serious, but it’s just one possible cause of chronic and worsening shoulder pain. To learn why your shoulder hurts and how we can help, book an appointment online or over the phone at our West Orange or Bayonne, New Jersey, office today.

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