Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique to assess - and in most cases, treat - a range of conditions affecting the joints. The procedure allows the surgeon to see inside a joint without having to make a large incision. Instead, several small incisions, about the size of a buttonhole, are used to insert a small video camera (arthroscope) and any other surgical instruments needed for a particular treatment.There are a number of procedures that are done in this fashion. If a procedure can be done arthroscopically instead of by traditional surgical techniques, it usually results in less pain and a quicker recovery.

Understanding the procedure

During the procedure, the orthopedic surgeon makes small incisions (cuts), called portals, in the affected joint and then inserts a tiny video camera and fiber optics to light the interior space. The view inside one’s joint is transmitted to a video monitor in the operating room, showing the surgeon exactly where to go to correct problems in the joint - or in some cases, to perform the corrective treatment.

Arthroscopy is typically performed by orthopedic surgeons in an outpatient setting. When performed as an outpatient procedure, patients can usually return home the same day. It can be performed under a general anesthetic, a spinal or epidural anesthetic, a regional block (where only the extremity being examined is numbed), or even a local anesthetic.

Indications for the procedure

Arthroscopy can be helpful in the diagnosis and treatment of many types of arthritis as well as various injuries within the joint, such as cartilage tears or deterioration, such as a torn meniscus of the knee, and ligament strains and tears, like an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. It is commonly used in the evaluation of knees and shoulders but can also be used to examine and treat conditions of the wrist, ankles, elbows, and hips.

While many different conditions in many kinds of joints can be treated with an arthroscopic procedure, it is not right for every problem or every person. Only a surgeon can tell if the problem can be treated with arthroscopy or if a more invasive approach may be better.