Just What is an Arthroscopy?

September 28, 2018

Your doctor has recommended an arthroscopy.  Your neighbor just had a “scope” on his knee.  Just what is an arthroscopy and what is the difference between that and open surgery?

Arthroscopy is a surgery orthopedic surgeons use to visualize, diagnose, and treat problems inside a joint.  The word arthroscopy comes from two Greek words, “author” (joint) and “skopein” (to look).  The term literally means “to look within the joint.”  Arthroscopic surgery is most often done on the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip, or wrist though not all orthopedic surgeons perform scopes in all of these joints.  Occasionally, an arthroscopy is done to help further diagnose a problem, but usually they are for treatment of a previously diagnosed condition. 

The procedure involves making a small incision in the patient’s skin about the size of a buttonhole.  Then pencil-sized instruments are inserted that contain a small lens and lighting system to magnify and illuminate the inside of the joint.  Light is transmitted through fiber optics to the end of the arthroscope that is inserted into the joint.  The arthroscope is attached to a miniature TV camera which projects onto a screen. Then the surgeon is able to see the inside of the joint on the screen as he maneuvers the scope/camera.  He will look inside the joint, diagnose the problem and area, and decide what type of treatment is needed, if any.  If a procedure is needed, special tools are inserted through other small incisions called “portals”.  These instruments are used to remove and repair bone and tissue during arthroscopic procedures.   

Arthroscopic surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis, and most patients are able to go home the same day.  This type of procedure is easier and less invasive on the patient than an “open” surgical procedure usually requiring a longer hospital stay and more recovery time.  If your surgeon recommends an arthroscopic procedure for you, now you will have a better idea of just what he is referring to!    
 

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