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What is Arthroscopic Surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is a kind of minimally invasive joint surgery that can be used to both diagnose and treat problems within a joint. It is most commonly performed by orthopedic surgeons on six main joints: the knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, ankle, and wrist. Arthroscopy uses very small incisions, so recovery is generally quicker and the risk of infection is lower than with traditional joint surgery.

Arthroscopic surgery consists of two separate procedures. The first part, where the joint is examined and any problems are diagnosed, is called arthroscopy. If surgery is performed at the same time, it is called arthroscopic surgery. Because the two procedures take place together, sometimes these terms are used interchangeably.

During arthroscopic surgery, a small incision is made and a thin probe the width of a toothpick is inserted directly into the center of the affected joint. This probe contains a camera and fiber optic lights to illuminate the joint space. The surgeon can then look at the joint, make a diagnosis, and decide if the problem can be treated. If it can, two more small incisions will be made, and narrow tubes with tiny instruments at the tip will be inserted into the joint along with the camera. The surgeon uses the camera to guide the operation within the joint. Then all of the instruments and tubes are removed, the incisions are bandaged, and the patient can recover.

Arthroscopic surgery is not appropriate for every joint disorder, but it can be used to treat a number of them, including:
  • Inflammation of the joint, for example, synovitis or arthritis
  • Injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, ACL tears, or a torn meniscus in the knee
  • Bone spurs
  • Infections
  • Scar tissue within the joint

When more conservative treatment methods are not able to control pain in a joint any longer, arthroscopy is often the next step to examine and treat joint problems.