How an arthroscopy is carried out 

An arthroscopy procedure usually lasts between 30 minutes and two hours. You can normally go home the same day or the following morning.

Preparing for surgery

Before having an arthroscopy, you'll usually be given an appointment to attend a pre-admission clinic.

During your appointment, your general health will be assessed to make sure you're ready for surgery. You'll also be given information about issues such as:

  • what and when you are allowed to eat and drink on the day of surgery
  • whether you should stop or start any medications before surgery
  • how long it will take for you to recover from surgery
  • whether you will need to do rehabilitation exercises after surgery

The surgical team will explain the benefits and risks associated with having an arthroscopy. You will also be asked to sign a consent form to confirm that you agree to have the operation and that you understand what's involved, including the risks and benefits. 

The arthroscopy operation

An arthroscopy is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, although occasionally it can be performed under spinal anaesthesia, or with local anaesthetic. Your anaesthetist will explain which type of anaesthetic is most suitable for you. In some cases, you may be able to express a preference.

If you have a local anaesthetic, your joint will be numbed so you do not feel any pain. However, you may still feel some sensations during the procedure, such as a mild tugging, as the surgeon works on the joint.

Antibacterial fluid is used to clean the skin over the affected joint and a small incision, a few millimetres long, is made so the arthroscope can be inserted. One or more additional incisions will also be made so that an examining probe or other fine surgical instruments can be inserted.

The surgeon may fill the joint with a sterile fluid to expand it and make it easier to view. They will be able to see inside your joint using an eyepiece or a video screen. If possible, during the procedure, they will repair any damaged areas and remove any unwanted tissue.

Your surgeon will then examine the inside of the joint using the arthroscope and, if necessary, remove or repair any problems areas using surgical instruments inserted through the additional incisions.

After the procedure, the arthroscope and any attachments are removed, along with any excess fluid from the joint. The incisions are usually closed using special tape or stitches and covered with a sterile dressing.

Read more about recovering from an arthroscopy.

Page last reviewed: 27/04/2015

Next review due: 27/04/2017