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What is Arthroscopic Surgery?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Arthroscopic surgery, often misspelled and mispronounced as orthoscopic surgery, consists of viewing a joint with a small camera inserted through an incision in the skin. Arthroscopy is most commonly performed on the knee joint, but it can also be used on the wrist, ankle, shoulder, or hip. This procedure is sometimes referred to as orthscopic surgery, but this term properly refers to correct vision and does not describe any type of surgery.

The term arthroscopic is derived from the Greek roots arthro, meaning 'joint', and scopein, meaning 'to see'. In arthroscopic surgery, small incisions are made around the joint to admit a camera called an arthroscope and any other required surgical instruments. The incisions are only a centimeter or two long and leave minimal scarring. Recovery time is also significantly shorter than with open joint surgery.

This procedure can be used to diagnose and to repair joint problems. The arthroscope can be used to take pictures of the inside of the joint that can be evaluated by a doctor, and it also provides a video image on a television screen during surgery, so that the surgeon can see what he or she is doing without opening up the joint. The arthroscope is about the size of a pencil and features both a magnifying lens and a fiber optic light to make the photographed areas clearly visible.

Arthroscopic surgery can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including synovitis, or inflammation of the joint lining; tears in the rotator cuff tendons or in the cartilage or ligaments of the knee; arthritis related problems; and carpal tunnel syndrome. Some conditions still require open joint surgery, but arthroscopic procedures have become increasingly sophisticated and versatile since becoming widely used in the 1980s.

While arthroscopic surgery is considered a minimally invasive procedure, it does require anesthesia, either local or general. It is usually an outpatient procedure, and few patients require much medication for pain. Recovery is fairly quick, with the incision wounds healing in a few days and maximal recovery of the joint occurring over several weeks. Rehabilitation or physical therapy may be required during the recovery period.

Like all surgery, arthroscopic surgery has a few associated risks. These include infection, excessive bleeding or swelling, blood clots, nerve or blood vessel damage, and instrument breakage. However, less than one percent of all arthroscopic procedures have any of these complications.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By kenr — On Jul 29, 2009

need info re: shoulder arth procedure, benefits and negatives

By anon38590 — On Jul 27, 2009

I had one arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus back in 2004. The recovery time was very short. I was off crutches in three days and never took a pain pill. My scars are not visible unless you know where they are. I had the three small incisions. I am currently scheduling my second surgery to repair the exact same thing that has torn again. I have mixed reactions about this kind of surgery.

By maribills — On Apr 21, 2008

I am thinking about arthroscopic knee surgery. I have read a number of articles by MD's regarding that the surgery hastens cartilage wear and leading to knee replacement. Any comments regarding this? Thanks

By anon1822 — On Jun 16, 2007

i recently had arthoscopic knee surgery done but am slow healing. I wonder if i made a mistake having the surgery

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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