An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery used both to diagnose and treat problems with joints.
It’s most commonly used on the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips.
An arthroscopy involves the use of a device called an arthroscope to examine the joints. This is a thin, metal tube about the length and width of a drinking straw that contains a light source and a camera. Images are sent from the arthroscope to a video screen or an eyepiece, so the surgeon is able to see inside the joint.
It’s also possible for tiny surgical instruments to be used alongside an arthroscope to allow the surgeon to treat certain joint conditions.
As the equipment used during an arthroscopy is so small, only minor cuts need to be made in the skin. This means the procedure has some potential advantages over traditional, “open” surgery, including:
Arthroscopy is most often performed as an outpatient procedure. The patient will check into the facility where the procedure is being performed and an intravenous line (IV) established in order to administer fluids and medication for anesthesia. The type of anesthesia used varies depending on the joint being examined and the medical health of the patient. Arthroscopy can be performed under a general anesthetic, a spinal or epidural anesthetic, a regional block (where only the extremity being examined is numbed), or even a local anesthetic. If a general anesthetic is not used, the patient is often sedated. After adequate anesthesia is achieved, the procedure can begin. An incision is made on the side of the joint to be examined and the arthroscope is inserted into the incision. Other instruments are sometimes placed in another incision to help maneuver certain structures into the view of the arthroscope. In arthroscopic surgery, additional instruments for surgical repairs are inserted into the joint through additional small incisions in the joint. These instruments can be used to cut, remove, and suture (sew) damaged tissues. Once the procedure is completed, the arthroscope in removed and the incisions are sutured closed. A sterile dressing is placed over the incision and a brace or ACE wrap may be placed around the joint.
The time it takes to recover from an arthroscopy can vary, depending on the joint involved and the specific procedure you had.
It’s often possible to return to work and light, physical activities within a few weeks, but more demanding physical activities such as lifting and sport may not be possible for several months.