orthopedics, sports medicine

Explaining arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure

Arthroscopy is a procedure Signature Medical Group orthopedic surgeons use to visualize, diagnose, and treat problems inside a joint.

In an arthroscopic examination, a Signature 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 fiber optics to the end of the arthroscope that is inserted into the joint.

By attaching the arthroscope to a miniature television camera, the Signature surgeon is able to see the interior of the joint through this small incision rather than a large incision needed for surgery.

The TV camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a TV 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.

Arthroscopy can be used on several types of injuries:

  • Shoulder: Rotator cuff tendon tears, impingement syndrome, and dislocations.
  • Knee: Meniscal (cartilage) tears,  and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) 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 with arthroscopy. Several procedures may combine arthroscopic and standard surgery:

  • Rotator cuff surgery.
  • Repair of torn cartilage (meniscus) from knee or shoulder.
  • Reconstruction of ACL in knee.
  • Removal of inflamed lining 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 much easier in terms of recovery than “open” surgery, arthroscopy still requires the use of anesthetics and the special equipment in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical suite. You will be given a general, spinal, or a local anesthetic, depending on the joint or suspected problem.

A small incision (about the size of a buttonhole) will be made to insert the arthroscope. Several other incisions may be made to see other parts of the joint or insert other instruments.

When indicated, corrective surgery is performed with specially designed instruments that are inserted into the joint through accessory incisions. Initially, arthroscopy was simply a diagnostic tool for planning standard open surgery. With development of better instrumentation and surgical techniques, many conditions can be treated arthroscopically.