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What Is Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a style of minimally invasive surgery that utilizes a thin, flexible camera and small incisions to diagnose and repair joint problems. The knee is the joint most frequently subjected to arthroscopy, but the technique can also be used for the shoulder, hip, wrist, elbow and ankle.

Benefits of Arthroscopy

The alternative to arthroscopy is open surgery, which involves bigger incisions and exposing the joint to the air. Sometimes open surgery is necessary, but arthroscopic surgery carries some distinct advantages, such as:

  • Faster healing time
  • Faster recovery
  • Less disruption of normal tissue
  • Less chance of infection
  • Less chance of scarring
  • Less pain
  • Possibility of same-day surgery

What to Expect From Arthroscopic Surgery

The patient is usually under some sort of sedation—local, regional or general, depending on the joint being operated upon. The surgeon makes a small incision at the joint and inserts the arthroscope, which is hooked up to a monitor, allowing the surgeon to see inside the joint. Guided by the arthroscope, the surgeon is able to diagnose what is wrong with the joint. This is especially useful if imaging studies, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have been inconclusive.

If repair or other intervention is necessary, the surgeon will make one or more additional incisions to insert small tools to complete the procedure. Sometimes the problem cannot be fixed with arthroscopic surgery. In such cases, the surgeon will either open the joint to complete the procedure or close the arthroscope incision and discuss treatment options with the patient at a later time.

Recovery From Arthroscopic Surgery

One of the main benefits of arthroscopic surgery versus open surgery is faster healing and recovery time, but it depends on the patient’s level of health, the joint affected and the procedure performed.

Possible side effects of the surgery may be:

  • Bruising at the surgery site
  • Pain
  • Stiffness of the joint
  • Swelling

More serious complications, though rare, can include:

  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Internal bleeding
  • Nerve damage

The patient may take a painkiller as directed by the doctor, and the joint should be rested for 24 to 48 hours. It may be possible to return to work or light activity within a few weeks, but more vigorous activity such as sports, intense exercise or heavy lifting may be off limits for a few months. Following the medical care team’s advice will minimize complications and promote faster recovery.

If you are considering arthroscopic surgery for a joint condition, follow the link below and answer a few short questions. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing Summit Health.

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