3 things to expect while waiting for a shoulder reconstruction

By Debby Greenwood

3 minutes

20 June 2019

Man in grocery store rubbing shoulder 

From bowling a wicket to taking a dip at the beach, our shoulders get quite the workout.

Sadly, our love of sports and an active lifestyle often come hand-in-hand with serious injury. One minute you’re going for the tackle on the footy field, next minute you could be in line for a shoulder reconstruction.

In fact, young adults – especially male athletes – are extremely susceptible to injury, with over 435 West Aussies undergoing shoulder reconstruction surgery in 2017-181.

A shoulder reconstruction involves repairing the torn or stretched ligaments of the shoulder. While the surgery typically only takes an hour to perform, that’s nothing compared to the time spent waiting for surgery if you're not covered by private health insurance.

So, what’s life like while you’re creeping up the wait list? We spoke to local Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Peter Campbell to find out what a day in the life waiting for a shoulder reconstruction could look like.

Pain is a daily struggle 

It won’t come as a shock that Dr Campbell says you can expect daily discomfort, but it’s the little things that the pain affects that you might not predict.

“People struggle with every activity of day-to-day life when they have these significant shoulder problems,” says Dr Campbell. “Pain with everyday activities and sporting activities is a common feature.”

A shoulder injury might not sound bad if you don't have one, but when you start to imagine a life where you struggle to simply carry in the groceries from the car, do the heavy lifting at work or even play with the kids, the serious impacts of the injury really come to light.

Say goodbye to your Zzz’s 

With daily pain comes sleepless nights. Dr Campbell says that pain associated with injury  can often be bad to the point of causing sleep deprivation. So, if you’re a big fan of your full eight hours of shut-eye, an injured shoulder will come as a rude shock.

“Pain at night prevents people from sleeping or wakes them from sleep on a regular basis which can result in chronic sleep deprivation,” explains Dr Campbell.  

To save yourself some sleepless nights, you’ll definitely want to consider getting on the waiting list for surgery as soon as possible – however, it still might be a longer wait than you think. 

Wait times are long 

There are a few things that you’re probably happy to wait for – new smartphones, 50% off sales - but surgery is definitely not on that list.

Based on recorded 2017-18 wait times in WA2, once you’re in line for a shoulder reconstruction in the public system you could be waiting anywhere up to 115 days for surgery - and that’s not even including your ‘wait-to-wait’ time.  

Less commonly known, ‘wait-to-wait’ refers to the period of time spent waiting to see a specialist, who then puts you on the formal waiting list for surgery.  

According to HBF’s 2018 Waiting Lists Report, the median wait-to-wait time alone is 8.78 months. To put that into perspective, that’s longer than the entire footy season.

In comparison, the advantage of the private system is that is has an average wait-to-wait time of only 2-3 weeks across the board and just 2-4 weeks for surgery1.

So, if you’re thinking of giving private health insurance the cold shoulder, it’s definitely worth checking out the wait times for surgery at your local hospitals. To make the process easy, we’ve created our Wait Times Tool – give it a go and see how long you could be waiting.

Public vs private hospital wait times

How long will you really wait for an elective surgery?

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1Taken from the HBF wait times report

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