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What is it?

Arthroscopy uses a small fiber optic scope inserted through a small incision in the skin to see inside a joint. It has two purposes: diagnostic and surgical. First it is a diagnostic tool, allowing surgeons to view joint problems without major surgery. During arthroscopy the surgeon makes small incisions in the joint and inserts a camera the size of a pencil. This allows the surgeon to evaluate the knee damage.

Depending on the problem found, surgeons may use arthroscopy to perform surgery. During arthroscopic surgery small instruments are inserted through additional incisions to repair the damage, such as a torn meniscus or a torn ligament. Using arthroscopy, for example, a surgeon may reattach the torn ends of a ligament or reconstruct the ligament by using a piece (graft) of healthy ligament from the patient or from a cadaver.

Because arthroscopy uses tiny incisions, it results in less trauma, swelling, and scar tissue than conventional surgery. This means less time in the hospital and faster recovery than traditional open surgery. Problems can be diagnosed earlier and treated without serious health risks or more invasive procedures. Furthermore, because injuries are often addressed at an earlier stage, operations are more likely to be successful. Most arthroscopic surgery is performed in an outpatient setting under general anesthesia.

What is arthroscopy used for?

Surgeons may recommend arthroscopy to look inside a joint and/or to perform a surgical procedure to treat the following:

  • Inflammation in the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle
  • Injuries, such as shoulder rotator cuff tendon tears or impingement syndrome
  • Cartilage damage, such as meniscal tears, injury, or wear
  • Ligament tears such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)