What is a Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a diagnostic procedure frequently used by orthopedic surgeons to diagnose and treat bone and joint-related conditions which often cause symptoms like pain, instability, and functional limitations. 

The term “arthroscopy” originates from the combination of two Greek words: “arthro” (joint) and “skopein” (to look).  The literal meaning of arthroscopy is “to look inside the joint.”

Who performs arthroscopy?

Orthopedic surgeons use an arthroscope, a long, thin tube with a video camera and light during the arthroscopy procedure.

Which joints are typically examined using arthroscopy?

The joints most commonly examined using arthroscopy include:

  • Foot and ankle
  • Hand and wrist
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Shoulder

What are common reasons for recommending arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is performed for various reasons, including:

  • Diagnosing and treating joint problems, such as torn ligaments, cartilage damage, and inflamed joint lining (synovitis).
  • Removing loose bodies, such as bone fragments or cartilage, that may be causing pain and discomfort.
  • Repairing or reconstructing ligaments and tendons.
  • Treating certain types of joint fractures.

How is arthroscopy performed?

Before arthroscopy

Before an arthroscopic procedure, it is essential to adhere to the doctor’s instructions. 

  • The patient should inform the doctor about any allergies that may be having.
  • The patient should provide a comprehensive list of medications and supplements that they are taking
  • The patient should notify the doctor if taking any blood thinners or painkillers.
  • Refrain from eating or drinking anything after midnight on the day prior to the scheduled procedure.

During arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, allowing the patient to return home on the same day.  The patient will receive anesthesia, so it is essential to have someone accompany the patient to stay with for the remainder of the day.

The steps involved in arthroscopic procedures can vary depending on the issue being addressed.  While most procedures last about an hour, some may take longer.

During arthroscopy, the orthopedic surgeon:

  • Makes two or three small incisions, each about the size of a buttonhole, in the targeted treatment area.
  • Inserts the arthroscope and other tiny surgical instruments through the small incisions.
  • Views images transmitted by the arthroscope on a monitor to thoroughly examine joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
  • Utilizes the arthroscope images to make a diagnosis of the disease condition.
  • Removes the arthroscope upon completion of the procedure.
  • Arthroscopy incisions are quite small, typically less than half an inch in length, and may not require stitching. Instead, the surgeon may use small adhesive strips or steri-strips to close the incisions, or they may simply cover them with sterile dressings.

After arthroscopy

After the arthroscopic procedure, the patient should be able to return home within a couple of hours.  Here are some general post-procedure guidelines that the patient might need to follow:

  • Avoid putting weight or pressure on the treated area for a specified period. If arthroscopy was performed on the hip or leg, the patient may require crutches or another assistive device.
  • Apply ice to the area and keep it elevated to help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Keep the incision clean and covered to minimize the risk of infection.
  • Take the prescribed painkillers to manage pain effectively.
  • Wear a sling or brace as per the surgeon’s instructions to support the joint during the initial recovery phase.

Always adhere to the specific instructions the doctor provides for a smooth and successful recovery following the arthroscopic procedure.

Arthroscopy is generally safe, but like any surgical procedure, it carries some risks, including:

  • Infection at the incision sites or within the joint.
  • Bleeding or blood clots.
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage.
  • Rare complications associated with anesthesia.

What are the advantages of arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure performed through small incisions.  In comparison to open surgery, it offers several advantages, such as:

  • Faster recovery time.
  • Reduced postoperative pain.
  • Minimal blood loss and scarring.


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