What is Arthroscopic Surgery (Arthroscopy) and its Uses?

February 16, 2011

by Dr. Michael Snedden

A minimally invasive procedure, arthroscopic surgery, or arthroscopy is frequently employed in sports medicine and the treatment of inflammatory, infectious, and degenerative joint diseases. A combination of the Greek words for “joint” and “to look,” the first arthroscopies were performed almost 100 years ago. However, the procedure did not become commonplace until the advent of closed-circuit television and fiber optic camera technologies in the 1980s.

In an arthroscopy, an orthopaedic surgeon creates a small incision in the skin through which he or she inserts a thin tube. This tube contains a tiny camera and fiber optic cable, as well as a light source to illuminate the interior of the body. Modern arthroscopes can be inserted into virtually any joint in the body, although they are most commonly used for the knees, shoulders, hips, and wrists. Initially, arthroscopy was employed exclusively as a diagnostic tool. Following injury or disease, an orthopaedic surgeon would conduct examinations with x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging technology. Subsequently, an arthroscopy would be performed to verify the best surgical course of treatment.

Today, arthroscopic technology has advanced to the point that many surgeries can be performed entirely arthroscopically. Generally, the patient will be placed under some type of anesthesia, either local or general depending on the procedure. Next, the arthroscope is inserted and the problem diagnosed. Finally, additional tools are inserted through a secondary incision. In this way orthopaedic surgeons may repair torn cartilage, remove inflamed tissues, conduct carpal tunnel releases, or excise loose cartilage.

Most patients recover from arthroscopy uneventfully. Many require little or no pain medication, and the puncture wound from the entrance of the arthroscope heals in a matter of days. Following the procedure, your doctor will prescribe certain types of activity or exercises to help improve the healing process.

About the Author: Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Michael Snedden currently serves at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and is on the clinical faculty of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He possesses over 20 years of experience as an orthopaedic surgeon.

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