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Arthroscopy is a form of keyhole surgery that is used to diagnose and treat problems affecting the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. The procedure is often used to diagnose persistent joint problems, particularly if other diagnostic scans (X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans) have been unable to determine the cause.

An arthroscopy enables an orthopaedic surgeon to see inside the joint so, as well as seeing what is causing the problem, they can assess the extent of any damage. Arthroscopies can also be used to treat some joint problems, using tiny surgical instruments inserted through small incisions in the skin.

What is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is surgical procedure that uses an arthroscope – a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at one end. The arthroscope is inserted through a small incision in the skin and images are transmitted from the end of the instrument onto a video screen, enabling the surgeon to get a detailed look inside the joint. Tiny surgical instruments can be inserted into the joint via adjoining incisions, which means that the procedure can be used to treat certain conditions affecting the joint, such as arthritis.

Who may benefit

Arthroscopies are an effective way to repair damaged ligaments, tendons and cartilage and remove loose sections of bone and cartilage that can become lodged within the joint. They can be used to drain excess fluid and remove inflamed sections of tissue.

Among the conditions that are commonly treated using arthroscopy are arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, synovitis (inflammation of the joint lining) and frozen shoulder.

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For evidence-based orthopaedic care you can trust, make contact for an initial consultation.

What to expect from arthroscopy

Before the procedure your general state of health will be assessed. Your surgeon will discuss the procedure and outline any risks and you will have an opportunity to ask questions before signing the consent form.

An arthroscopy is normally carried out under general anaesthetic, which means you will be asleep throughout. Some procedures may be performed under local anaesthetic, which means you will be awake but the affected area will be numbed.

Once the anaesthetic has been administered, the skin above the joint is cleaned and a small incision is made for the arthroscope to be inserted through. If you need to have a surgical procedure, other small incisions will be made through which the surgical instruments can be inserted.

To get a good view inside your joint, the surgeon may fill it with sterile fluid to expand the joint. They will be able to examine your joint thoroughly and, if necessary, make any repairs or remove loose bone and cartilage. Once the procedure is complete, the arthroscope and surgical instruments will be removed and the incisions closed with stitches and a dressing.

Afterwards you will be taken to a recovery room while you come round from the general anaesthetic. You may have some pain in the affected joint but you will be given painkilling medication. You can normally go home on the same day as surgery. Depending what type of procedure you have had, you may see a physiotherapist who will recommend exercises to support your recovery.

You will not be able to drive yourself hone and should have someone with you for the first 24 hours after surgery. Use ice packs to reduce swelling and keep the joint elevated as much as possible. It is important to keep any dressings dry and to do the exercises recommended by the physiotherapist. You will normally have a follow-up appointment a few weeks after your surgery to check how you are progressing.

Patient Outcomes

Arthroscopic surgery has a number of advantages compared to conventional open surgery. There is less pain and blood loss and faster recovery times, which means you can get back to your normal activities more quickly. There is a reduced risk of infection and for most people there is no need to stay in hospital over night.

Recovery times will depend on the procedure you had, as well as your general state of health. You should avoid strenuous activity for around six weeks after surgery.

Risks of arthroscopic surgery

The risks associated with arthroscopy are generally small. They include infection or nerve damage. There is also a small risk associated with having an anaesthetic. You should seek medical help if you experience a high temperature, severe or increasing pain or swelling, numbness, tingling or unpleasant-smelling discharge.

For evidence-based orthopaedic care you can trust, make contact for an initial consultation.