A Guide to Arthroscopy

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

OSC Outlines what Arthroscopy is in Plain Language

Call (757) 596-1900 for an Arthroscopic Consultation

Arthroscopy comes from the medical prefix Arthro, meaning “joint”, and the suffix scopy, meaning “to see” or “observe”.  Hence, arthroscopy literally means “seeing the joint”.

Arthroscopy is a minimally-invasive procedure that allows Orthopaedic Surgeons to visualize interior joint structures without the need for a larger incision, using a fiber-optic camera affixed to a flexible tube which inserted through a small incision in the body.  Through other small incisions, surgical instruments may be inserted (as needed) to repair or remove damaged joint tissue.  To make room for the camera, instruments and visualization of the joint, surgical irrigation fluid is used to distend the joint and open it for the procedure.

arthroscopic surgeryModern Developments in Arthroscopic Techniques

Although many improvements in arthoscopy have been developed in recent years, the surgical technique itself has been around since the early 1900s.  The field of arthroscopic surgery exploded in popularity during the 1970s-80s, when the use of flexible fiber-optics made the surgery easier and allowed better visualization of the joint.  Arthroscopy is regularly used in the field of Sports Medicine, but has expanded into the surgical repertoire of almost every Orthopaedic surgeon.  It is now commonly used to treat many orthopaedic injuries and diseases related to aging and overuse.

Technically, arthroscopy can be performed on almost any joint in the body, but is most commonly done on the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles.  Arthroscopy is performed using special, smaller surgical instrumentation, which allows it to fit through the small incisions in the skin and into the joint itself. The most commonly performed Arthroscopic procedures are repairs of the meniscus, repair or removal of torn cartilage and Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction.

The Benefits from Arthroscopy

The benefits from Arthroscopy are:

  • Smaller incisions
  • Less blood loss
  • Less trauma to the skin, connective tissue and muscle tissue
  • Quicker recovery time
  • Less scarring

After Arthroscopy, patients will have swelling in the affected joint, which is associated with post-surgical trauma and also the fluid that is used to enlarge the joint space for the procedure.
This swelling is entirely normal.   Post-surgical swelling is usually expected to dissipate within a week or two and may depend on the location and condition of the affected joint before surgery.    It is recommended that patients who undergo Arthroscopy take care not to overuse their joint during recovery, as their joint may be unstable and require more time to heal.   An Orthopaedic physician is best qualified to ascertain when a post-surgical patient is ready to return to normal activities or if they may benefit from Physical TherapyPhysical Therapy is often prescribed for persons who have difficulty regaining their strength and range of motion after a surgical procedure.

When is Arthroscopy Inappropriate?

Some surgical procedures, such as total knee, hip or shoulder replacement cannot be done arthroscopically, because the implants and instrumentation are too large to fit through the small incisions.  Sometimes, patients are not candidates for Arthroscopy because of their anatomy, the location of their problem within in the joint or the body or because of their small or large body mass.   Consultation with one’s physician is the best way to decide which surgical option, including Arthroscopy, is the appropriate option.

Call (757) 596-1900 for an Arthroscopic Consultation