This procedure can be used to diagnose or treat a range of joint problems.
Arthroscopy is a procedure that lets doctors see, and sometimes repair, the inside of a joint.
It's a minimally invasive technique that allows access to the area without making a large incision.
In the procedure, a tiny camera is inserted through small cuts. Pencil-thin surgical tools can then be used to remove or repair tissue.
Doctors use the technique to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the knee, shoulder, elbow, hip, ankle, wrist, and other areas.
It can be used to help identify or treat:
- Damaged or torn cartilage
- Inflamed or infected joints
- Bone spurs
- Loose bone fragments
- Torn ligaments or tendons
- Scarring within joints
The Arthroscopy Procedure
Arthroscopy typically takes between 30 minutes and two hours. It's usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon.
You may receive local anesthesia (a small area of your body is numbed), a spinal block (the bottom half of your body is numbed), or general anesthesia (you'll be unconscious).
The surgeon will place your limb in a positioning device. Salt water may be pumped into the joint, or a tourniquet device may be used to let the surgeon see the area better.
The surgeon will make a small incision and insert a narrow tube containing a tiny camera. A large video monitor will display the inside of your joint.
The surgeon may make more small cuts to insert different instruments for joint repair.
When the procedure is complete, the surgeon will close each incision with one or two stitches.
You may need to fast before your arthroscopy procedure, depending on the type of anesthesia being used.
Tell your doctor about all medicines you take before undergoing arthroscopy. You may need to stop taking some of them a couple of weeks before the procedure.
Also, let your healthcare provider know if you've been drinking a large amount of alcohol (more than one or two drinks a day), or if you smoke.
After the procedure, you'll probably be taken to a recovery room for a few hours.
You can usually go home on the same day. Be sure to have someone else drive you.
You may need to wear a sling or use crutches after your procedure.
Most people are able to resume light activity within a week. It will probably take several weeks before you can perform more strenuous activities. Talk to your doctor about your progress.
Your doctor will probably prescribe medicines to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
You may also need to elevate, ice, and compress the joint for several days.
Your doctor or nurse may also tell you to go to physical therapy/rehabilitation, or to perform specific exercises to help strengthen your muscles.
Call your doctor right away if you develop any of the following:
- Fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher
- Drainage from the incision
- Severe pain that isn't helped by medication
- Redness or swelling
- Numbness or tingling
Risks of Arthroscopy
Although complications of arthroscopy are rare, they may include:
- Blood clots
- Bleeding into the joint
- Tissue damage
- Injury to a blood vessel or nerve
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Arthroscopy; Mayo Clinic.
- Knee arthroscopy; MedlinePlus.
- What is Arthroscopy? Arthroscopy Association of North America.