Arthroscopy is a common, minimally invasive surgical technique to treat a wide range of joint injuries and problems with connective tissues, cartilage structures, and more.

Before the advent of arthroscopy, physicians would need to make larger incisions in tissues to access the joint for proper diagnosis and treatment. Thankfully modern medical advances in surgical techniques have led to the arthroscope, to reduce the physical impact on treated tissues and joint structures. It is little more than a narrow tube with a system of lenses, a small video camera, and a light for viewing. All are made from surgical-grade materials and properly sterilized for safe diagnosis and treatment.

Since its inception arthroscopy has allowed physicians, orthopedists, and other medical specialists to diagnose and treat joint problems with little more than a minor incision.

If you have been struggling to deal with a joint problem your physician might recommend arthroscopy or refer you to an arthroscopic specialist. The arthroscopic procedure might then be used to both view and treat your musculoskeletal problem. However, there are some conditions it can treat, and others where arthroscopic surgery is counter-indicated.

Determining If Arthroscopic Surgery Is Necessary

To determine if you are a good candidate for an arthroscopic procedure, your physician will first need to perform a basic physical examination. This might include mechanical tests to assess your range of motion, as well as general flexibility.

Your primary care physician will also need to collect an accurate medical history to determine if other factors might be contributing to your symptoms. This might also influence the scope of the treatment plan they develop for you.

Be sure to let them know about any past injuries or chronic health conditions. Also, let them know about any medications you are taking or dietary restrictions that might influence your overall health. This might come into play if they decide to prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.

With a lot of joint injuries, the examination and medical history will be followed up by diagnostic imaging. This might consist of an X-ray, MRI, or possibly a CT scan. These images will help your physician evaluate the severity of the problem. It might also help to further assess the presence of inflammation and other factors affecting the surrounding tissues. In some cases where severe inflammation is present, arthroscopic surgery might be counter-indicated or will need to be delayed until the swelling and inflammation are reduced.

If further diagnosis or more advanced treatment is required, they might refer you to an in-network specialist, or orthopedist who can develop a customized treatment plan.

What Is Arthroscopy

Let’s say that your primary care physician has performed a thorough examination and early diagnostics indicate that you are a good candidate for arthroscopy. If you’re not 100% familiar with this type of procedure, we’ll need to take a closer look at what it is and how it’s performed.

In simple terms, arthroscopy is a commonly performed minimally invasive surgical procedure that uses an arthroscope to view joints. A surgeon or an arthroscopic specialist performs arthroscopy when they need to see inside the joint and/or need to repair some types of joint, cartilage, or connective tissue damage.

Arthroscopy is usually performed on an outpatient basis. Most people have the procedure performed in the morning and are home later that afternoon or evening.

At the start of the arthroscopic procedure, you receive a general, spinal, or local anesthetic to ensure the area is numb and you are perfectly comfortable. If you need to be fully anesthetized your surgeon will likely advise you to abstain from eating and drinking the night before the arthroscopic procedure.

Once you are comfortable the surgeon will make a small incision in your skin near the affected joint. They will then insert an arthroscope through this incision. At that point, the surgeon will likely need to make another miniscule incision through which they can insert special surgical tools for probing, cutting, or grasping. All the while, the small light transmitted by the arthroscopes optic fiber will help guide the way.

The visual information inside of your joint will be clearly transmitted to a monitor. This will magnify the image to help guide the surgeon throughout the diagnostic and surgical treatment process.

At the end of the arthroscopic procedure, both of the incisions are closed with one or two stitches and perhaps some sterile adhesive tape. Your physician will give you after-care instructions specific to your procedure and the joint.

Conditions That Can Be Treated With Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is most often recommended for musculoskeletal conditions, in cases where nonsurgical treatments such as rest, icing, braces, splints, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, and physical therapy have failed to provide sufficient symptom relief. The versatility and effectiveness of arthroscopic surgery means that it can be used to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions and common joint injuries affecting:

  • The Shoulder
  • Knee
  • Ankle
  • Elbow
  • Hip
  • Wrist

Common Conditions Treated With Arthroscopy

There is a wide range of conditions that can be treated via arthroscopy. This includes things like:

  • Inflammation of the lining of the affected joint
  • A mild to moderate Rotator cuff tendon tear
  • Impingement syndrome in the ankle, or shoulder
  • A recurrent shoulder dislocation
  • A Meniscal cartilage tear in the knee
  • Partial Anterior cruciate ligament tears
  • An injury in the cartilage cushion of a joint
  • Chondromalacia
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • A Ganglion cyst
  • Frozen shoulder caused by bone spurs or cartilage abnormalities
  • Foot arthritis
  • Ankle arthritis
  • Loose bone fragments in the wrist
  • Bone fragments of bone spurs in the shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle

What Are The Benefits Of Arthroscopy?

Because arthroscopic surgery only requires one or two small incisions it is often the preferred surgical option for many joint injuries compared to open surgery. Patients often notice benefits such as:

  • Expedited recovery as less tissue is damaged
  • Reduced need for hospital stays
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Less reliance on pain medications
  • Minimal blood loss
  • Reduced presence of scarring in the surgical site
  • Less scarring in the surgically altered tissues
  • Less pain

When Is Arthroscopy Counter Indicated

It’s important to note that while arthroscopy is versatile and a preferred surgical method for many musculoskeletal injuries, it is not a catch-all procedure. Major injures, and completely torn ligaments and tendons or injures where the underlying bone is affected may still require more invasive open surgery.

Your physician and orthopedic specialists will assess the severity of your injury to determine if arthroscopy is best for you. It is often a fallback procedure for times when other non-surgical methods such as physical therapy and rest have failed to provide you with the healing or symptomatic relief you need.