Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure orthopaedic surgeons use to visualize, diagnose, and treat problem inside a joint. The word arthroscopy comes from two Greek words, “arthro” (joint) and “skopein” (to look). The term literally means “to look within the joint.”
In an arthroscopic examination, an orthopaedic surgeon makes a small incision in the patient’s skin and then inserts pencil-sized instruments that contain a small lens and lighting system to magnify and illuminate the structures inside the joint. Light is transmitted through fibre optics to the end of the arthroscope that is inserted into the joint.
By attaching the arthroscope to a miniature television camera, the surgeon is able to see the interior of the joint through this very small incision rather than a large incision needed for surgery.
The television camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to look, for example, throughout the knee. This lets the surgeon see the cartilage, ligaments, and under the kneecap. The surgeon can determine the amount or type of injury and then repair or correct the problem if it is necessary.
Disease and injuries can damage bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Some of the most frequent conditions found during arthroscopic examinations of joints are:
Shoulder: Rotator cuff tendon tears, impingement syndrome, and recurrent dislocations
Knee: Meniscal (cartilage) tears, chondromalacia (wearing or injury of cartilage cushion), and anterior cruciate ligament tears with instability
Wrist: Carpal tunnel syndrome
Loose bodies of bone and/or cartilage: for example, knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, or wrist
Some problems associated with arthritis also can be treated. Several procedures may combine arthroscopic and standard surgery.
- Rotator cuff surgery
- Repair or resection of torn cartilage (meniscus) from knee or shoulder
- Reconstruction of anterior cruciate ligament in knee
- Removal of inflamed lining (synovium) in knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ankle
- Release of carpal tunnel
- Repair of torn ligaments
- Removal of loose bone or cartilage in knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, wrist.
Although the inside of nearly all joints can be viewed with an arthroscope, six joints are most frequently examined with this instrument. These include the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip, and wrist. As advances are made in fibre optic technology and new techniques are developed by orthopaedic surgeons, other joints may be treated more frequently in the future.
What are the benefits?
As this type of procedure uses very tiny instruments and only requires a small incision, there are benefits to the patient. An arthroscopy is preferable to traditional ‘open’ surgery in various ways.
- Less pain after the operation than open surgery. This means there is less need for strong painkillers and will feel better more quickly.
- As the incision is very small, Patients will have a smaller scar that will heal much more quickly. When it is completely healed, the scar may be almost invisible.
- There is a lower risk of infection, meaning very unlikely to develop complications after the operation.
- Many patients can return home on the same day as their arthroscopy, with no need to stay in the hospital to recover. You may also find that you can return to normal activities more quickly. The time it takes to recover completely varies depending on the specific procedure you had and which joint was involved.
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