Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure orthopaedic surgeons use to visualize, diagnose and treat problems inside a joint.
In an arthroscopic examination, an orthopaedic surgeon makes a small incision in the patient's skin and then inserts pencil-sized instruments that contain a small lens and lighting system to magnify and illuminate the structures inside the joint. Light is transmitted through fiber optics to the end of the arthroscope that is inserted into the joint. By attaching the arthroscope to a miniature television camera, the surgeon is able to see the interior of the joint through this very small incision rather than a large incision needed for surgery. The television camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to inspect the joint. The surgeon can determine the amount or type of injury, and then repair or correct the problem, if it is necessary.
Although the inside of nearly all joints can be viewed with an arthroscope, six joints are most frequently examined with this instrument: knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip and wrist.
Arthroscopic surgery, although much easier in terms of recovery than "open" surgery, still requires the use of anesthetics and the special equipment in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical suite. A small incision (about the size of a buttonhole) will be made to insert the arthroscope. Several other incisions may be made to see other parts of the joint or insert other instruments.
When indicated, corrective surgery is performed with specially-designed instruments that are inserted into the joint through accessory incisions. Initially, arthroscopy was simply a diagnostic tool for planning standard open surgery. With development of better instrumentation and surgical techniques, many conditions can be treated arthroscopically.
Arthroscopic surgery is an extremely valuable tool for orthopaedic patients and is generally easier on the patient than "open" surgery. Most patients have their arthroscopic surgery as outpatients and are home several hours after the surgery.