Frequently Asked Questions About Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy FAQs

Arthroscopy is a detailed surgical procedure that allows your orthopedic specialist to look at the inside of a particular joint through a viewing instrument called an arthroscope. During this procedure, the doctor looks at the joint surfaces, as well as the other structures within the joint, such as the cartilage and ligaments. An arthroscopic examination allows the doctor to make a tiny incision in your skin and insert a pencil-sized instrument. The arthroscope has a small lens and lighting system used to illuminate and magnify the joint structures. The doctor can then visualize your joint on a TV monitor.

What does the word ‘arthroscopy’ mean?

The word ‘arthroscopy’ is derived from two separate Greek words, ‘arthro’ meaning joint, and ‘skopein’ meaning to look in. The term literally means “to look in the joint”.

Why is arthroscopy necessary?

The orthopedic specialist uses arthroscopy for diagnosis and repair. Some injuries can be diagnosed with x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT). Other injuries, however, require further diagnostic techniques. The arthroscope allows the surgeon to make a more accurate final diagnosis and repair the injury at the same time. Some of the common conditions found during arthroscopy include:

  • Inflammation: Swelling and redness of the lining of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, knee, or ankle
  • Shoulder: Injury to the rotator cuff tendon, injury to the biceps tendon, impingement syndrome, and recurrent dislocations
  • Knee: Meniscus tears, chondromalacia, and anterior cruciate ligament tears as well as evaluating damage to the joint surfaces
  • Wrist: Torn cartilage or loose bodies
  • Loose Bodies of Bone or Cartilage

What are some problems treated with arthroscopy?

The problems treated with arthroscopy include:

  • Reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee
  • Rotator cuff surgery
  • Removal of lose bone or cartilage
  • Repair of torn ligaments
  • Removal of inflamed synovium lining of the shoulder, knee, elbow, ankle, or wrist
  • Repair or removal of a torn meniscus of the knee

What joints are most frequently examined by arthroscopy?

There are six joints that are typically examined with the arthroscope. These include the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip, and wrist.

How is arthroscopy performed?

Arthroscopic surgery is less traumatic than traditional open surgery. The orthopedic specialist uses general or regional anesthesia, depending on which joint and the extent of the problem. A small, buttonhole sized incision is made on the skin to insert the arthroscope along with several other small incisions around the joint area.

The surgeon inserts the instruments through this incisions and uses the additional incisions to insert specially designed instruments used for repair. When indicated, the surgeon corrects the problem and repairs the damage as necessary.

After the procedure, the small incisions are closed with sutures or Steri-strips and covered with a dressing. You will be moved from the operating room to the recovery room. Most arthroscopic procedures are done on an outpatient basis.

Before you are discharged to home, you will be given instructions about how to care for your wounds, what activities to avoid, and which exercises to perform to aid your recovery. The sutures will be removed during your follow-up visit.

What are the possible complications of arthroscopy?

Although complications are rare, they do occasionally occur following arthroscopy. These include blood clots of a vein, infection, excessive swelling, bleeding, damage to blood vessels or nerves, and muscle damage.

What are the advantages of arthroscopy?

Arthroscopic surgery allows quicker recovery time and less pain because less muscle and tissue are disturbed during the procedure, as compared to traditional open surgery. Most patients are treated as outpatients and are home several hours after the operation.

What is recovery like after arthroscopy?

The small incisions take several days to heal. The orthopedic specialist will instruct you as to when the surgical dressing can be removed. The pain in the joint is minimal but may take several weeks to maximally recover. The orthopedic specialist will develop a tailored rehabilitation plan for you to follow. This will depend on the joint that was worked on, the degree and severity of your injury or condition, and your current health status. Most athletes are able to return to their usual athletic activities within a few weeks, and other patients return to normal activities in a short time.

How does arthroscopy feel?

If you are given a general anesthetic, you will be unconscious and not feel anything during your operation. If you receive regional anesthesia, your arm or leg will be numb for several hours. You will not feel anything during the procedure either.

Expect to have some mild soreness and pain following your arthroscopic procedure. The orthopedic specialist will prescribe some pain medicine for you to use, and advise you to apply ice to your joint. This helps reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to keep your bandages clean and dry while the joint heals.

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About Jonathan Franklin

Jonathan Franklin, MD (Retired) Dr. Franklin is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a clinical focus in arthroscopic and reconstructive knee surgery, arthroscopic shoulder surgery, as well as knee replacement surgery. Dr. Franklin has a strong background in sports medicine, and treats many high school, as well as recreational and professional athletes for a wide variety of sports injuries.