Is an Arthroscopic Surgery Right for You?

A common difficulty for the aging, physically active, and general population, joint pain can cause severe discomfort and interfere with daily life. Old routines can become painful, and as we attempt to compensate for the pain additional wear and tear of ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bone can accumulate into more complicated health risks.

How can Arthroscopic Surgery Help with Joint Pain?

Arthroscopy is an orthopaedic surgery used to visualize, diagnose, and treat joint issues in patients experiencing pain. In an arthroscopic examination, an orthopaedic surgeon makes a small incision and inserts a thin camera called an arthroscope into the afflicted area, allowing the surgeon to assess the interior of the joint and diagnose the issue accordingly.

The image of the wound’s interior is projected onto a monitor, and this detailed view of the joint lets the surgeon see clearly the nature and extent of wear within the joint. Afterwards, the surgeon can decide if physical rehabilitation or further surgery is necessary.

Do I Need an Arthroscopic Surgery?

Arthroscopies are ideal for individuals with joint pain who want a clear diagnosis of their ailment. An arthroscopy can be used as an alternative or addition to a standard series of diagnostic tests, including analysis of one’s medical history, physical examination, and X-rays. This procedure lets a doctor see plainly the extent, nature, and cause of joint pain, allowing for easier diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.

Some of the most common joint issues that warrant an arthroscopy include:

  • Inflammation: Synovitis, or the inflammation of joint tissue, can cause significant pain and irritation.
  • Acute or Chronic Injury:
    • Shoulder: Rotator cuff tendon tears, impingement syndrome, and dislocation
    • Knee: Cartilage tears, chondromalacia, and anterior cruciate ligament tears
    • Wrists: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
    • Loose bodies of bone and/ or cartilage

Arthroscopy can also be combined with surgery in order to treat some common arthritic issues like:

  • Rotator cuff surgery
  • Repair or resection of torn cartilage from knee or shoulder
  • Reconstruction of anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee
  • Removal of inflamed tissue linings
  • Release of carpal tunnel
  • Repair of torn ligaments
  • Removal of loose bone and/or cartilage

While all joints are eligible for examination through arthroscopy, the six most common injured areas are the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ankle, and hip.

How Arthroscopy Works

While not as severe as traditional “open” surgery, an arthroscopy still requires the use of anesthetic (either general, spinal, or local) and special equipment found in a hospital or outpatient surgical suite.

A surgeon will make a small initial incision for the arthroscope and will make several more to accommodate surgical instruments if surgery is deemed necessary. While arthroscopies were originally a mere diagnostic tool for doctors, thanks to medical and technical advancement, the procedure can now be coupled with corrective surgery to minimize the amount of time and energy spent on correcting the injury. If the wound calls for it, corrective surgery is performed with small, narrow tools through small incisions around the afflicted joint.

After the procedure, incisions are covered and dressed, and the patient is moved to a recovery room to recuperate from this outpatient procedure. Most patients do not require prescription medication during their recovery time. A follow-up appointment is scheduled, during which time the doctor will inspect incisions, remove any sutures, and assess the need for physical rehabilitation.

Potential Complications

An arthroscopy is a relatively low-risk procedure; less than one percent of patients face post-surgical complications, which can include infection, phlebitis (blood clots), excessive swelling or bleeding and damage to blood vessels or nerves.

Arthroscopy Advantages

Arthroscopies are known primarily for treating professional athletes’ sports injuries, but anyone experiencing joint pain could benefit from the procedure. The surgery is a valuable option and is relatively low-risk, especially compared to traditional surgeries. An arthroscopy is relatively painless, fast, and offers a quick recovery period.

Arthroscopy Recovery

Allow several days for the surgery’s small puncture wounds to heal. Doctors can remove the wounds’ wrapping the day after the surgery, and it is best to wear adhesive strips until the wounds have completely healed. Full recovery will take a few weeks, and physical rehabilitation options are available to help expedite the healing process.

Most patients feel well enough after a few days to return to their daily routine and work, but keep in mind that recovery time varies from person to person due to a patient’s potential pre-existing conditions, age and health.