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Thermal Shrinkage of the Shoulder Capsule

Your shoulder joint is like a ball in a small, shallow saucer. The ball, or head, of the arm bone (humerus) rests in the shoulder socket (glenoid). The capsule is a sheet of tough fibers. It stabilizes the shoulder joint by enclosing the head of the humerus and the glenoid. Subluxation or dislocation of the shoulder joint (movement of the humerus too far out of the glenoid) can stretch or tear your capsule. This can lead to too much movement in the shoulder joint, known as shoulder instability. Symptoms such as aching, catching, or a feeling of the joint “slipping” can result. A treatment called thermal shrinkage can help tighten the capsule and stabilize the joint.

Outline of shoulder joint showing humeral head, capsule, and rotator cuff.

Side view of shoulder joint socket showing glenoid, labrum, and capsule.

Closeup of glenoid and shoulder capsule showing thermal probe touching capsule tissue.

Thermal Shrinkage Therapy

Heating parts of the capsule causes them to shrink. This tightens the capsule and allows it to better stabilize the joint. Thermal shrinkage is done during an arthroscopic procedure. A long, thin lighted tube called an arthroscope is used to see and operate inside the shoulder.

  • Before the Procedure: Follow your surgeon’s instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. You may need to stop eating and drinking after midnight before the procedure. When you arrive at the hospital or surgery center, you will change into a hospital gown. You will be given medication to relax you. You may be partially awake or completely asleep during the procedure.

  • During the Procedure: Small incisions are made around your shoulder joint. The arthroscope and surgical instruments are placed through these incisions. Magnified images of your shoulder joint appear on a monitor. To perform thermal shrinkage, a thermal probe is inserted into the joint. This probe heats specific parts of the capsule. When these parts cool, they shrink, causing them to tighten and better hold the joint in place. 

  • After the Procedure: Your shoulder may be put in a sling or immobilizer.You will go home the day of the procedure or stay 1 night(s). You will be given a rehabilitation program of exercises and physical therapy to strengthen your shoulder. This program may continue for 3–6 months.

Risks and Complications of Thermal Shrinkage Include:

  • Infection

  • Nerve damage

  • Restretching of the capsule

  • Failure to tighten the capsule enough

  • Limitation to your range of motion

Call Your Surgeon If:

  • You have increasing pain or swelling

  • Your have decreasing sensitivity or movement in your shoulder

  • You have a fever over 101°F or chills

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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