Joint issues can be diagnosed using imaging tests such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, along with a thorough medical history. To get the most definitive diagnosis, arthroscopy may be recommended. The procedure is performed using an instrument called an arthroscope containing a lens and light which allows the surgeon to examine and repair the joint while viewing it on a screen.
What Is Arthroscopy?
Arthroscopy is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures by orthopedic surgeons to diagnose and treat issues inside of a joint. It is minimally invasive and allows the surgeon to look inside your joint with a simple small incision. Though other tests may be used to help diagnose a problem in a joint, such as X-rays or MRI, being able to get inside the joint with an arthroscope can provide a final and more accurate diagnosis. Depending on the problem, the surgeon may also be able to repair any damage during the arthroscopic surgery.
Arthroscopy allows a surgeon to make a definitive diagnosis of various joint conditions because it allows them to see the joint from the inside. Arthroscopic examination can be used to examine the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, ankle or foot. Arthroscopic surgery also provides the opportunity to repair joint damage using only small incisions, unlike traditional open surgery. This has many benefits for the patient, including faster recovery time since there is less trauma to the connective tissue and less scarring.
After surgery, you will be given instructions on how to care for your incisions along with what activities you need to avoid. You may be given exercises to help with your recovery. Recovery time varies from person to person depending on the extent of your injury and the work done during the procedure. You’ll be asked to attend a follow-up appointment with your primary care physician who will inspect your incisions and remove stitches, if any. During this appointment the physician may also talk to you about rehabilitation.
Along with aiding in the diagnosis of joint conditions, arthroscopic surgery may also be used to treat the following:
- Cartilage tears and damages
- Loose bone or cartilage fragments
- Joint inflammation
- Joint infections
- Scarring in the joints
- Torn ligaments
The procedure can be used to treat conditions such as carpal tunnel, rotator cuff tears and damage, and other conditions affecting the joints.
You will need to be sedated for the arthroscopy, and we use general anesthesia to accomplish this. On some occasions, we may also add a nerve block to stop you from feeling any pain for a few hours after the surgery, but this is not always required. Since our procedures are minimally invasive, your pain levels should be manageable regardless of the nerve block. General anesthesia is administered through an IV, placed before your procedure. A small incision, approximately the size of a buttonhole, will be made in order to insert the arthroscope. This will allow the doctor to view the inside of your joint. Other small incisions may be made if the surgeon requires a look at other parts of the joint or to insert other instruments to repair damage. Arthroscopic surgery may take from 30 minutes to two hours depending on what repair is required. Once completed, the incisions will be closed using one or two stitches or thin pieces of sterile tape, and then covered with dressing. You will then be moved to a recovery room where you will be monitored for a few hours before being discharged.
The exact preparation needed for your arthroscopy will depend on which part of the body is being examined or repaired. In most cases the following preparation instructions will apply:
- Avoid certain medications and supplements. Some medications and dietary supplements can increase the risk of bleeding. You may be asked to stop taking certain medications or supplements in the days before surgery.
- Consult with your physician. If you are taking any drugs or might have an illness, you should discuss this with your physician prior to surgery.
- No food or drink for 6 – 12 hours beforehand. How long you’re required to fast before the procedure will depend on the type of anesthesia being used. Failing to fast the time advised could result in the postponement of your procedure.
You will receive pre and post-op instructions to follow. Ask questions and take the time to understand what you need to do as failing to follow your preparation instructions may result in postponing your surgery to a later date.