What is an Arthroscope?

Lisa Bower

An arthroscope is a tube that usually is inserted into the body so that a medical professional can plan a surgery or see different areas of the body up-close. This small tube generally is made up of a group of lenses, a light for the dark regions, and a video camera. The camera not only allows a doctor to watch the movements of the tube, but it can help a surgeon to see during an operation. Traditionally, the arthroscope was used only for diagnosis and planning. The arthroscope now can be used during arthroscopic surgeries as well, helping surgeons to see what they are doing during an operation.

Arthroscopic knee surgery can save an athlete's career and relieve chronic pain.
Arthroscopic knee surgery can save an athlete's career and relieve chronic pain.

The procedure in which the arthroscope is inserted into the body for diagnostic or surgical reasons is called an arthroscopy. This procedure allows doctors to see into the interior area of a joint. A general anesthetic typically is used to minimize the pain a patient may feel when the arthroscope is inserted via a small incision. The light from the device allows the doctor to see the problem area for either diagnosis or for full-on surgical operations.

An arthroscope may be used to view the hip joint prior to surgery.
An arthroscope may be used to view the hip joint prior to surgery.

Arthroscopy surgery generally is an outpatient procedure. Recovery times usually vary depending on the person and the condition of their overall health. Someone in fairly good physical shape may return to sports or working out within a few weeks of the procedure; others may need more recovery time. If a patient has arthroscopic knee surgery, they may still have use of the knee but a doctor may ask them to limit running or jogging. It usually is recommended for a patient to consult with a physician before returning to physical activity following an arthroscopy.

An arthroscope can be used for a variety of joints. The joints most commonly examined with this tool include the knee, shoulder, ankle, hip, and wrist. Most often, doctors will order an arthroscopy if there is an inflammation of the joints, an injury like a rotator cuff tendon tear, or a loose piece of bone or cartilage in an area like the knee or shoulder.

The procedure most commonly is performed by orthopedic surgeons. Everyone from the elderly to athletes may need this procedure at some point in their life. A procedure like a hip arthroscopy could help an older person walk without pain, and a procedure like a shoulder arthroscopy could help a football player return to playing.

Arthroscopic surgery usually is minor and the recovery time is faster than other types of treatment. Many professional athletes commonly have this procedure performed on areas such as knee joints. Arthroscopic knee surgery can save an athlete's career and relieve chronic pain.

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