What is arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is a common orthopedic procedure that is used to diagnose and treat problems in joints. The word “arthroscopy” comes from two Greek words: ‘arthro,’ meaning “joint,” and ‘scope,’ meaning “look.” Arthroscopic surgery simply means to look inside a joint.

Arthroscopic surgery is most commonly performed on the knee and shoulder joints. The reason the knee and shoulder are the most commonly arthroscoped joints is because the surgeon can manipulate the instruments around them easier than the wrist, elbow, ankle, and hip, and they are amenable to arthroscopic surgery treatments.

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 fiber optic light source and shows a picture of the inside of the joint on a television monitor so the operating team is aware of the type of surgical procedure being conducted. Fluid is inserted into the joint to allow more maneuverability and to remove any debris. The procedure is performed under anesthesia and the inside of the joint is examined for damaged tissue. One or more other incisions are made to insert instruments that can treat the underlying problem. For example, a shaver can be inserted to trim the edges of a cartilage tear.

The most common types of arthroscopic surgery include: removal or repair of a torn meniscus, removal of loose debris, ligament reconstruction and trimming damaged cartilage.

Arthroscopy is less invasive and less traumatic to the muscles, ligaments, and tissues than the method of surgically opening the knee with long incisions, also known as an arthrotomy. The benefits of arthroscopy include: smaller incisions, faster healing, a quicker recovery, and minor scarring. Arthroscopic surgical procedures are often performed on an outpatient basis and typically the patient returns home the same day.