Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to look at problems in a joint in order to diagnose and treat it. Your doctors might recommend this if you have inflammation, injury or damage to your joints.
Also known as arthroscopic surgery, this procedure makes difficult surgeries easier because it allows your doctor to see the inside of your joint and operate on the injury through tiny incisions.
The procedure is usually done as an outpatient surgery, which allows you to have the procedure and go home on the same day. This makes it a faster and easier process with a quicker recovery time as compared to open surgery. That is why arthroscopic surgery is often the preferred option.
Arthroscopy is able to assess and treat joint conditions that affect the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip or wrist. It can also treat conditions that damage your cartilage, joint ligaments, meniscus, loose bodies, joint linings and scarring within joints.
Common injuries include the shoulder rotator cuff injury, torn ligament, tennis elbow, shoulder dislocation and knee problems. However, research has shown that arthroscopy is not effective as a cure for osteoarthritis of the knee.
Arthroscopy usually lasts between 30 minutes to 2 hours. It allows your doctor to assess your injury without making a large incision as it uses an arthroscope, a tool with a camera and light that is passed through a small incision.
The procedure is done under local or general anaesthesia depending on your type of injury. During arthroscopic surgery, your surgeon makes a small button-sized incision near your injury. The arthroscope is then inserted, and your surgeon is able to see the damage through images projected on a large monitor.
Your surgeon can then decide, depending on the severity of your injury, whether to repair the damage during this procedure, perform an open surgery, or allow your injury to recover naturally.
If your surgeon decides to make the repair during the procedure, more small incisions may be made to insert the necessary tools to remove, hold, shave and fix the injury.
If you require open surgery, your surgeon may choose to perform this at the same time as the arthroscopy. Minimally invasive surgery is usually preferred to open surgery as the latter requires a larger incision, which can lead to more pain and larger scars. It often requires a longer stay in the hospital and longer recovery time.
Once the arthroscope and tools are removed, the incisions will be closed using surgical tape strips or stitches.
It is normal for the affected area to swell, bruise, stiffen and hurt after surgery. Pain can be alleviated with pain medication. You will be advised to raise the injured area and use ice to alleviate swelling. You may have to undergo special physiotherapy post operation to strengthen your muscles and joints.
You should diligently follow the exercises your doctor prescribes to speed up your recovery process. After 1 – 2 weeks following your surgery, you should have a fuller range of motion and you will regain some strength in week 3. After 4 – 6 weeks, you can do activities that require a lot of muscle/joint use from the injured area.
Depending on the size and severity of your injury, full recovery can take about 4 – 6 weeks. However, everyone’s recovery time is individual. Your overall health, activity level and how well you take to the home exercises or physical therapy will also affect how long the healing process will take.
If you experience pain in any of your joints, make an appointment to see an orthopaedic doctor to ask whether arthroscopy may be an option for you.