Arthroscopy 

 Introduction 

Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy can be a safe and effective procedure for diagnosing and treating knee problems. Orthopaedic surgeon Mr Lawrence Freedman explains.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

Joints

A joint is the point where two or more bones meet. They allow the bones to move, while holding them in place, protecting and supporting them.

Joints are made up of five different types of tissue:

  • bones
  • tendons - tough, stringy tissue which connects muscles to bones
  • ligaments - similar to tendons but connect one bone to another bone
  • cartilage - tough, spongy tissue that lines the surfaces of bones and acts like a shock absorber within the joint, helping to reduce friction and prevent damage as the bones move
  • synovial fluid - thick, sticky fluid that acts as a lubricant inside the joint

An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery used both to diagnose and treat problems with joints.

The procedure is most commonly used on the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrist.

An arthroscopy might be recommended to look at the inside of the joints if imaging tests have been performed and you have problems such as swelling or stiffness.

As well as allowing a surgeon to look inside a joint, an arthroscopy can also be used to treat a range of problems and conditions. For example, it can be used to:

  • repair damaged cartilage
  • remove fragments of loose bone or cartilage
  • treat frozen shoulder

Read more about when an arthroscopy is used.

What happens during an arthroscopy?

A piece of equipment called an arthroscope is used during an arthroscopy. An arthroscope is a small, metal tube about the length and width of a drinking straw. Inside, a bundle of fibre optics act as both a light source and a camera. Images are sent from the arthroscope to a video screen or an eyepiece so that the surgeon is able to see the joint.

It is also possible for tiny surgical instruments to be passed through an arthroscope to allow the surgeon to treat certain conditions.

The arthroscope is inserted into a small incision next to the joint. More small incisions may also be made to allow an examining probe or surgical instruments to be inserted.

An arthroscopy is usually carried out under general anaesthetic. In some cases, however, a spinal or local anaesthetic is used.

An arthroscopy is usually performed as a day case procedure, which means the person being treated is able to go home on the same day as the surgery.

Read more about how an arthroscopy is performed.

Safety

An arthroscopy is usually a safe type of surgery and the risk of serious complications developing is low (less than 1 in 100).

However, possible complications include infection and accidental damage to nerves near the affected joint.

Read more about the complications of an arthroscopy.

Advantages

An arthroscopy is carried out using keyhole surgery, where only small cuts are made in the skin. This gives the procedure some potential advantages over traditional, open surgery including:

  • less pain following the operation 
  • faster healing time
  • lower risk of infection
  • it can be performed as a day case procedure
  • you may be able to resume normal activities more quickly

Recovery

The time it takes to recover from an arthroscopy can vary depending on the joint involved and which procedure was necessary.

It is often possible for a person to do light, physical activities one to three weeks after having surgery. Full physical activities, such as lifting and sport, can often be resumed after six to eight weeks.

Read more about recovering from an arthroscopy.

Page last reviewed: 12/06/2013

Next review due: 12/06/2015

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 169 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

Having an operation

If your GP has suggested you may need surgery, this guide is for you

Orthopaedics

Why you might need to see an orthopaedic surgeon, and what to expect

Find and choose services for Arthroscopy