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Shouldering On
A new division in Orthopaedic Surgery takes on one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints.

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Drs. Edward McFarland, left, and Steve Petersen with a shoulder surgery patient, center.

Most of us have heard of knee or hip replacements, but a total shoulder joint replacement doesn’t come as easily to mind. Making patients aware of such options—and having the experience and knowledge to successfully tackle such surgeries—is part of the reason Edward McFarland recently created the Division of Shoulder Surgery, which operates under the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

For McFarland, Hopkins’ first director of sports medicine and shoulder surgery, having a new division focused solely on shoulder issues was a logical evolution in a rapidly growing field. Shoulders are the second most common areas of musculoskeletal complaints after spine and back problems. “As the population ages, shoulder problems increase as well,” says McFarland. “Almost everyone at some point in their life is going to get some kind of rotator cuff problem. It’s not just athletes. It’s anybody who wants to be active.”

McFarland’s first move in setting up the division was to bring in a prominent colleague, Steve Petersen, as co-director. The two are among only 10 shoulder surgeons ever to receive the American Shoulder and Elbow Society’s European Traveling Shoulder Fellowship, which allowed them to study diagnostic and repair techniques abroad.

Between them, they average almost 500 shoulder surgeries a year, everything from the aforementioned shoulder replacements to joint reconstruction, rotator cuff repairs, revisiting previously failed shoulder surgeries, and treating shoulder fractures and arthritis.

While many of their patients don’t need surgery and improve with a medical regimen of physical therapy and anti-inflammatories, Petersen says technological advancements have made once-difficult shoulder surgeries a far more viable option.
“The shoulder is very amenable to arthroscopic surgery,” he says, and many minor procedures can be done on an outpatient basis.

Even complex surgeries have quick recovery times. McFarland’s research showed that compared to hips and knees, people undergoing shoulder joint replacement recuperated faster with fewer complications. “Most people can use their arm the next day, write and feed themselves or use the computer within two to three days,” he says. Full recovery normally takes about three months.                                  


— Mat Edelson



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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