Arthroscopic surgery

Arthroscopic surgery

Arthroscopy is a minimally-invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat joint conditions. Originally, arthroscopy was used primarily in the diagnosis and planning phases of a traditional open surgery. However, as arthroscopic instruments and surgical techniques have become more advanced, more conditions are now being treated arthroscopically.

An arthroscope is a small tube that is inserted into the body through an incision. Inside the tube is a system of lenses, a light for viewing, and a small video camera that is connected to a monitoring system, guiding the surgeon while he operates. The arthroscope is often used in conjunction with other tools that are generally inserted through another incision. These tools, unlike the arthroscope, are used for grasping, cutting, and probing.

Although each procedure varies, generally, arthroscopic surgeries involve the following:

  • A general, local, or spinal anesthetic is administered
  • A small incision is made in the patient's skin
  • The arthroscope is inserted through the incision
  • Other incisions may be made to introduce other small grasping, probing, or cutting tools
  • Light is transmitted via fiber optics at the end of the arthroscope
  • Information about the interior of the joint is transmitted to a screen
  • Corrective surgery, if necessary, may be performed during the initial diagnostic procedure
  • Dressings or bandages may be applied to the post-operative area

The small puncture wounds created by the arthroscope and probing tool(s) may take several days to heal.

Recovery time depends on the extent of the surgery and on the individual patient. However, most arthroscopic surgery is done on an outpatient basis, and patients are allowed to go home within hours after the surgery. Some patients resume daily activities and return to work or school within a few days. Athletes and other patients in good physical condition may return to athletic activities within a few weeks, under the care of their physician.

The joints most frequently examined using arthroscopy include the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, and wrist.

Animated video: Diagnostic arthroscopy

Related animated videos:


Conditions most frequently found with arthroscopy include:

  • Inflammation, including in the lining of the synovium in the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle
  • Pieces of loose bone and/or cartilage, particularly in the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, or wrist
  • Injuries, including the following:
    • Rotator cuff tendon tears, impingement syndrome, and recurrent dislocations in the shoulder
    • Meniscal (cartilage) tears, chondromalacia (wearing or injury of cartilage cushion), and anterior cruciate ligament tears with instability in the knee
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist

Always consult your physician for a treatment recommendation based on your individual condition.

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