Arthroscopy is a procedure for diagnosing and treating joint problems. A surgeon inserts a narrow tube attached to a fiber-optic video camera through a small incision – about the size of a buttonhole. The view inside your joint is transmitted to a high-definition video monitor.
Arthroscopy allows the surgeon to see inside your joint without making a large incision. Surgeons can even repair some types of joint damage during arthroscopy, with pencil-thin surgical instruments inserted through additional small incisions.
Doctors use arthroscopy to help diagnose and treat a variety of joint conditions, most commonly those affecting the:
Doctors often turn to arthroscopy if X-rays and other imaging studies have left some diagnostic questions unanswered.
Conditions treated with arthroscopy include:
Although the experience varies depending on why you're having the procedure and which joint is involved, some aspects of arthroscopy are fairly standard.
You'll remove your street clothes and jewelry and put on a hospital gown or shorts. A nurse will place an intravenous catheter in your hand or forearm and inject a mild sedative.
During the procedure
The type of anesthesia used varies by procedure.
You'll be placed in the best position for the procedure you're having. This may be on your back, on your abdomen or on your side. The limb being worked on will be placed in a positioning device, and a tourniquet might be used to decrease blood loss and make it easier to see inside the joint.
Another technique to improve the view inside your joint is to fill it with a sterile fluid, which helps distend the area and provide more room.
One small incision will admit the viewing device. Additional small incisions at different points around the joint allow the surgeon to insert surgical tools to grasp, cut, grind and provide suction as needed for joint repair. Incisions will be small enough to be closed with one or two stitches, or with narrow strips of sterile adhesive tape.
After the procedure
Arthroscopic surgery usually takes between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the procedure. After that, you'll be taken to a separate room to recover for a few hours before going home.
Your aftercare may include:
Call your surgeon if you develop:
In general, you should be able to resume desk work and light activity in a week, and more strenuous activity in about four weeks. However, your situation might dictate a longer recovery period and rehabilitation.
Your surgeon will review the findings of the arthroscopy with you as soon as possible. You might also receive a written report.
After arthroscopic surgery to treat a joint injury or disease, healing may take several weeks. Your surgeon will monitor your progress in follow-up visits and address problems.