Arthroscopy is a procedure orthopedic surgeons use to assess and treat joint conditions. Surgeons initially used arthroscopy to evaluate the patient to plan an open surgery, but as technology advanced, new tools and surgical methods developed that allowed surgeons to do more.
Doctors can now see inside the joint using an arthroscope equipped with a light and a camera. With this visual guide, they can insert small surgical tools to correct problems in multiple joints.
Surgeons can see the insides of just about any joint with an arthroscope, but six joints are most common for arthroscopic surgery: the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, wrist, and ankle.
As technology advances and surgeons develop new techniques, they may be able to use this method to perform surgery on more joints in the future.
Arthroscopy is an effective treatment option for many acute and chronic injuries or conditions, including removing loose bone or cartilage or repairing torn ligaments. Surgeons can use arthroscopy to treat rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, and recurrent shoulder dislocations.
This procedure is also a good treatment option for carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, meniscal and ACL tears in the knee and hip, labral tears, and hip dysplasia.
How you prepare for arthroscopy depends on the specific procedure, but there are some general guidelines to follow.
Your doctor will give you instructions, but generally, you will have to fast for around eight hours before the procedure. Wear loose clothing so you can get dressed easily after the surgery, and make sure you have someone to drive you home, as you will not be allowed to drive yourself.
What happens during surgery varies depending on the affected joint and the procedure, but most of them follow this process.
You will receive either general or local anesthesia. The surgeon will make a small incision to insert the arthroscope and other incisions for the small surgical tools. The fiber optics in the arthroscope transmit the image of the inside of the joint to a screen, which the surgeon uses to visualize the anatomy during the procedure.
Recovery depends on the type of surgery. After the procedure, the small incisions may take a few days to heal and may have adhesive strips covering them.
The puncture wounds from the arthroscope and the surgical tools are small, but it can take a few weeks for the joint to heal completely.
While full recovery can take around a month, most people who get arthroscopic surgery go back to work or school in a few days. It may take a few weeks longer to return to athletic activity.
Because surgeons use arthroscopy to treat so many conditions in six different joints, recovery is different for everyone. Generally, it takes a lot less time to recover from this type of surgery than from open surgery.
Most people can go home a few hours after the procedure. If you have arthroscopic surgery on your hip, knee, or ankle, you may need crutches or a walker for a few weeks. Wear a sling or brace shoulder after elbow or shoulder arthroscopy as instructed, and ice and elevate the area.
Over-the-counter NSAIDs are usually enough to treat pain, and you should only take showers until the incisions heal. Taking baths when the incisions are still open can lead to infection.
Generally, you will have to limit activity for one or two days after the procedure. If the surgery involves more extensive repairs, the surgeon will likely limit activity for an extended period. When you are at home recovering, keep an eye on the incision sites and call your doctor if you notice any redness, bleeding, swelling, or drainage.
You should also seek medical attention if you have worsening pain around the incision, numbness or tingling in the limb where the surgery occurred, or if you develop a fever or chills.
Arthroscopy is a very safe procedure, which is why it is the preferred treatment in most cases. Complications are uncommon, but they include infection or blood clots.
Nerve or tissue damage can occur from the surgeon placing and moving the surgical instruments in the joint, but this is also rare.
Some people may not be eligible for arthroscopy. For example, contraindications for hip arthroscopy include bone tissue death, adhesions, rigidity, or bone tissue outside of the bone itself. Other things that could disqualify someone from having arthroscopy are swelling near or around the joint that distorts the anatomy, damaged or thin skin that would hinder incision healing, and recent infection near the surgical site.
Arthroscopy is not always the best treatment option. Research shows that most people with osteoarthritis do not benefit from the surgery to relieve pain.
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