Patient Education Library
A Guide to Arthroscopy
Arthroscopic Surgery uses an arthroscope, which is a very small surgical instrument about the size of a pencil. An arthroscope contains a lens and lighting system that allows a surgeon to view inside a joint. The surgeon only needs to make small incisions and the joint does not have to be opened up fully. The arthroscope can be attached to a miniature camera. The camera allows the surgeon to view the magnified images on a video screen or take photographs and record videotape.
Initially, the arthroscope was designed as a diagnostic tool for planning traditional open joint surgeries. A surgeon uses an arthroscope to diagnose joint conditions when physical examinations or imaging scans are not conclusive. The diagnostic accuracy of arthroscopy is highly precise. As the technology developed, special surgical instruments were created to use with the arthroscope. Now, it can be used to treat conditions as well. Like the arthroscope, the thin surgical instruments are inserted into the joint through small incisions. Some injuries or problems are treated with a combination of arthroscopic and open surgery.
Conditions Treated with Arthroscopy
Although nearly all joints can be viewed with an arthroscope, it is used most frequently to treat six joints. These include the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip and wrist. Arthroscopy most commonly treats diseases and injuries that damage the bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that make up a joint.
A condition called Chondromalacia can cause the cartilage to soften and deteriorate because of injury, disease, or “wear and tear.” The curved cartilage in the knee joint, called a meniscus, is especially vulnerable to tears during injury. An arthroscopic surgery can treat these conditions by shaving and smoothing out the cartilage. It can also remove abnormal growths from bones, such as calcium deposits and bone spurs.
Tendons in the shoulder and ligaments in the knee are frequently torn or impinged from trauma and overuse. An arthroscopy can repair tendons. Many ligaments and tendons can be repaired arthroscopically. Synovitis, a condition caused by an inflamed lining of a joint, can develop in the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle. Arthroscopy can treat synovitis by removing scar tissue or the inflamed synovium. A synovial biopsy, a tissue sample for examination, can be done via arthroscopy.
What to Expect
Arthroscopic surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure. In some cases, an overnight stay in the hospital is necessary. You may be sedated for the surgery or receive a local or regional anesthetic to numb the area, depending on the joint or suspected problem. Before the surgery, your surgeon will elevate your limb and apply a tourniquet, an inflatable band. This will reduce the blood flow to your joint during the procedure.
In many cases, physical therapy is recommended to mobilize and strengthen the joint. A physical therapist may help you to improve your mobility, strength, endurance, flexibility, and function. It usually takes a joint several weeks to fully recover. Physical therapists may recommend assistive devices for short-term use, such as shower chairs or toilet risers. The durable medical equipment may help you to function safely and independently as possible while you heal. Your physical therapist can also help you learn to walk with an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, until you achieve your most independent level of ambulation.
Benefits of Arthroscopy
An arthroscopy can be a short procedure. In some cases, it may only take minutes for the actual surgery. Because it is often a shorter procedure, a smaller amount of anesthesia is required and individuals need to be sedated for shorter amounts of time than with open joint surgery. Most people have the procedure as an outpatient and return to their homes in just a few hours.
Overall, an arthroscopy requires a shorter length of time for recovery than open joint surgery. It also has a reduced risk of infection and causes less pain because only small incisions are used and less surrounding tissue is affected or exposed.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.