If you are due to undergo orthopaedic surgery on your shoulder or elbow, your surgeon may suggest an arthroscopic procedure. But what is arthroscopy and how will you benefit as a patient? Here are some of the things you need to know…
What is arthroscopy?
Arthroscopy, sometimes also called keyhole joint surgery, is an alternative to standard types of open orthopaedic surgery for many procedures, especially around the shoulder. Rather than making a large incision to access the damaged joint, the surgeon uses a small fibreoptic camera called an arthroscope, which is inserted through a very small incision in the skin, to guide the procedure.
We refer to this as minimally invasive surgery as it results in less trauma to the joint. Orthopaedic surgeons often use arthroscopy to diagnose and treat problems affecting the shoulder and knee butt is becoming more commonly used for other joints in the body.
Benefits of arthroscopy
There are a number of important benefits to arthroscopy when compared with conventional ‘open’ procedures, and it is generally regarded as one of the most important advances in orthopaedic surgery of the last century. Among the main benefits are:
- Less pain after surgery – this is because there is less trauma to the joint and less cutting of soft tissues
- Fewer complications – the smaller incisions and fluid irrigation mean there is a lower risk of infection after surgery
- Faster recovery times and healing – skin and soft tissues heal more quickly as they are less damaged
- Less postoperative swelling and less scarring
- Quicker return to full function and everyday activities – muscles are not detached so there is less need for a sling or brace and physiotherapy can start sooner
- Reduced length of time in hospital – you can normally go home the same day
Sporting injuries that might have ended an athlete’s career in the past can now normally be treated arthroscopically, leading to a faster return to fitness.
What is arthroscopy used for
Your surgeon may suggest undergoing an arthroscopic procedure if you have joint pain, stiffness or swelling.
It can be used to treat a range of problems and conditions affecting the shoulder and elbow joints, such as:
- Repairing soft tissue tears (rotator cuff or labrum)
- Removing loose fragments of cartilage or bone (debridement)
- Regaining motion in a frozen shoulder or a stiff elbow
- Draining fluid or taking a biopsy from an inflammed joint
- Widening an arthritic collar bone joint
- Removing bone spurs and bursitis
What to expect
Arthroscopic surgery is normally performed as an outpatient procedure so you will not normally need to stay in hospital overnight. It is carried out under general anaesthetic which means you’ll be asleep throughout.
After cleaning the area, a small incision is made over the affected joint and the arthroscope is inserted. This is a thin metal tube (around the size of a pencil) with a camera, magnifier and light at one end, which allows the surgeon to see what is going on inside your joint via a video sent to the computer monitor. Sterile fluid is introduced into the joint to expand it and make it easier to see what is happening.
Depending what the surgeon finds, additional incisions will be made so that tiny surgical instruments can be inserted to repair damaged areas, remove fragments of cartilage or bone or shave or resect small areas of tissue.
Once the procedure is completed, the arthroscope is removed and the incisions are closed with one or two stitches and a dressing. You will normally be able to go home the same day or the following morning.
After an arthroscopy
You should rest according to your surgeon’s instruction after an arthroscopy. If you are involved in physically demanding work, you may not be able to do this for a few weeks, depending on the procedure you’ve had.
Arthroscopy is not possible for all types of orthopaedic procedures and may not be suitable for every patient. Your surgeon will talk to you about your individual circumstances and recommend the most suitable procedure for you. Contact Thames Shoulder and Elbow if you would like more information or to discuss a bespoke treatment plan.
Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London
Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist). We can also offer consultations either online or face-to-face.
Telephone: 020 376 15987