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What is arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery, also known as arthroscopy, is a common minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat multiple 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 joint through a small 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 are used for grasping, cutting, suturing and probing.

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

What to expect

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

  • A general, local, or regional 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 instruments needed for the procedure.
  • Light is transmitted via fiber optics at the end of the arthroscope.
  • Visualization of  the interior of the joint is transmitted to a video screen.
  • Corrective surgery, if necessary, may be performed during the procedure.
  • Dressings or bandages are be applied to the postoperative area at the conclusion of the procedure.

Recovery

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.

Results

Thanks to the minimally invasive nature of arthroscopy, recovery time is usually shorter than that with traditional open surgery. The small puncture wounds created by the arthroscope and instruments typically take several days to heal. 

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