Arthroscopic decompression is the relief of pressure inside a joint with the use of arthroscopic surgical techniques, where a set of small incisions is made to insert tools and a camera for viewing the surgical site on a monitor. This technique is an example of minimally invasive surgery, and may be preferred when it is available because it reduces risks for the patient and tends to be safer. An orthopedic surgeon usually performs arthroscopic decompression, although sometimes a specialist like a neurosurgeon is involved in the process.
Joint compression can occur as a result of disease, injury, or aging. When a joint becomes compressed, inflammation develops, and structures in and around the joint can become involved. In the spine, for instance, nerves will be pinched and the patient can develop pain and numbness. The purpose of decompression is to relieve the pressure and make a repair to prevent the joint from collapsing again in the future.
With arthroscopic decompression, the patient is usually placed under general anesthesia. The surgeon studies scans of the joint to determine the source of the pressure and identify problems like bone spurs inside the joint. The site is prepared for surgery with the incisions, and the surgeon works carefully, following progress on the monitor. Sometimes, a problem with the joint that would inhibit the ability to treat the problem arthroscopically can be identified, and the surgeon may have to switch to an open procedure to make the surgical field more accessible.
During arthroscopic decompression, the surgeon can encounter bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. All of these are carefully inspected for damage and treated surgically if necessary. Once the surgery is complete, the tools are withdrawn so the incisions can be closed. Bandages are applied and the patient can be wheeled into recovery. Patients are usually advised to rest for several days after arthroscopic decompression surgery and will be given pain management to help with the initial recovery.
As patients grow stronger, they can go to physical therapy to gently stretch and strengthen the joint. The physical therapist can teach the patient some tricks for avoiding injury. Physical therapy can last several weeks or longer, depending on the joint involved, and usually includes exercises at home. Patients may also need to wear a brace for safety and can be asked to make changes to their work habits or hobbies to accommodate the joint while it heals.