What Does It Mean to Have Arthroscopic Surgery

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Arthroscopic surgery is a common orthopedic procedure that is used in the diagnosis and treatment of problems inside a joint. The word "arthroscopy" comes from two Greek words: 'arthro,' meaning "joint," and 'scope,' meaning "look." Simply put, arthroscopic surgery is a means to look inside a joint. But arthroscopy is much more than that!

Types of Arthroscopic Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery could potentially be performed on any joint, and as time passes, more and more different joints are being arthroscopically treated.

Common types of arthroscopic surgery include:

Knee and shoulder arthroscopy are by far the most common arthroscopic procedures performed. These joints are large enough to manipulate the instruments around, and they are amenable to arthroscopic surgery treatments.

Technically speaking, any joint can have an arthroscopic surgery. However, the practicality and the instrumentation available limit our ability to arthroscope every joint for all types of problems. The most common arthroscopic procedures include repairing cartilage and meniscus problems in the knee, and repairing rotator cuff tears in the shoulder.

Performing Arthroscopic Surgery

When an arthroscopy is performed, a camera is inserted into the joint through a small incision (about one centimeter). The arthroscopic surgery camera is attached to a fiberoptic light source and shows a picture of the inside of the joint on a television monitor.

The surgeon uses fluid pumped through the joint to aid in visibility and clear debris from the joint. One or more other incisions are made to insert instruments that can treat a variety of conditions. For example, a shaver can be inserted to trim torn cartilage from a joint.

Common Arthroscopic Procedures

Many joint problems are amenable to arthroscopic surgery.

As mentioned above, knee and shoulder conditions are far more often treated arthroscopically than are other joints; some common arthroscopic procedures include:

However, not all conditions are best treated with arthroscopic procedures. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated the limited improvement when arthroscopic surgery is performed for treatment of knee arthritis. As with any minimally invasive surgical procedure, the primary objective of adequate treatment of the condition must supersede any desire to perform the procedure through a small incision. If the problem cannot be sufficiently treated arthroscopically, then another surgical approach should be considered.

Safety of Arthroscopic Surgery

Understand that arthroscopic surgery is a surgical procedure and involves risks.

These may include infection, blood clots, nerve injuries, and problems with anesthesia. These are serious risks and the decision to undergo arthroscopic surgery should be carefully considered in consultation with your surgeon. That said, arthroscopic surgery is a "less invasive" procedure, and when performed for the right problem it is often very successful. Ask your doctor for more information about arthroscopic surgery, and talk about the possible risks of undergoing the procedure.

Recovery From Arthroscopy

One of the tremendous advantages of arthroscopic surgery is the ability to limit damage to the soft-tissues surrounding the joint.  Not only are incisions small, but there is minimal damage to muscle, ligaments, and all of the structures that surround the joint. In addition, the trauma to the joint, and the bleeding, swelling, and inflammation, is all minimized. Patients can generally begin range-of-motion and strengthening exercises sooner than with open surgical procedures. However, some procedures may still require limitations even when performed arthroscopically; therefore, check with your surgeon before beginning any post-surgical therapy program.

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