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What is Arthroscopic Surgery?

What is arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is surgery that includes making small incisions to use a camera to look inside a joint. This is commonly done on joints including the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist, the knee, the hip and the ankle. The doctor who makes the small incision puts a very small camera inside the joint and can see around by making some other tiny incisions where needed. Arthroscopy helps in procedures including cleaning up injuries as well as reconstructing injuries. It is a surgical procedure itself that orthopedic surgeons use to visualize, diagnose and treat problems inside a joint.

In an arthroscopic examination, an orthopedic surgeon makes a small incision in the patient’s skin, and then inserts pencil-sized instruments that contain a small lens and lighting system which magnify and illuminate the structures within the joint. Light is transmitted through fiber optics to the end of the arthroscope that is inserted into the joint. The surgeon will be able to see the interior of the joint through this very small incision rather than having to make a large incision needed for surgery.

The camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to look, for example, throughout the knee. This allows the surgeon to see the cartilage and ligaments. The surgeon can then determine the type of injury and repair and/or correct the problem if necessary.

Diagnosing injuries with arthroscopy 

Diagnosing joint injuries and diseases begins with a thorough medical history, physical examination and usually X-rays. Additional tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan may be needed.

Some of the most frequent conditions found during an arthroscopic examination of joints are:

  • Inflammation and acute or chronic injury
  • Rotary tendon cuff tears
  • Impingement syndrome
  • Recurrent dislocations
  • Knee meniscal tears
  • Chondromalacia
  • Anterior cruciate ligament tears
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome 

Benefits of arthroscopic surgery

Arthroscopic surgery, although much easier in terms of recovery when compared to “open surgery”, still requires the use of anesthetics and the special equipment found in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical suite. The patient is given general, spinal, or a local anesthetic depending on the joint or suspected problem. A small incision is made to insert the arthroscope. Other incisions may be made during the procedure to see other parts of the joint or to insert other instruments.

Initially, arthroscopy was simply used as a diagnostic tool for planning standard open surgery, but with the development of better instrumentation and surgical techniques, many conditions can now be treated arthroscopically. The amount of surgery required and recovery time will depend on the complexity of the problem. Occasionally, during arthroscopy the surgeon may discover that the injury or disease cannot be treated adequately with arthroscopy.

Arthroscopic surgery is an extremely valuable tool for all orthopedic patients and is generally easier on the patient than open surgery. Furthermore, it is not unusual for patients to have a quicker or easier recovery from arthroscopy, depending on the individual.