Arthroscopic surgery, a minimally invasive surgical technique, uses highly specialized instruments to perform surgery through very small incisions called portals. This type of surgery is particularly effective for orthopaedic procedures, especially those involving the knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip and wrist joints.
What are the benefits of arthroscopic surgery?
In traditional surgery, sometimes called open surgery, the surgeon makes incisions that can be several or more inches long. Patients stay in the hospital longer, have a longer recovery time after returning home, and experience more pain.
With arthroscopy, surgeons often can examine, diagnose and treat orthopaedic injuries with minimal difficulty for both the surgeon and the patient. Patients who are operated on arthroscopically almost always have smaller incisions (often only about 1/4 inch), less scar tissue, less pain after surgery, less damage to other tissue in the surgical area and faster recovery. In fact, many patients who undergo arthroscopic surgery are treated as outpatients and return to their homes the same day as the surgery.
How does arthroscopic surgery work?
In arthroscopic surgery, a surgeon makes a small portal incision in the patient’s skin and inserts a pencil-sized instrument that contains a tiny lens and lighting system to magnify and illuminate the structures inside the joint. The real-time picture of the inside of the joint or other area being examined is then projected onto a television screen so the surgeon can identify and repair, if necessary, the injury.
If a surgeon decides to repair an injury, specialized surgical instruments are inserted through other small portals. Typically, a surgeon working on a meniscus or ligament in a knee joint, for example, will only need to make two or three portal incisions.
After surgery is complete, the portal incisions may receive one or two small sutures and are covered with a dressing. The small puncture wounds heal quickly, and an individual can often return to work, school or daily activities within a few days.
Recovery for the work done inside the joint, however, can take longer and varies with each surgery and person. The orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with each individual what should or should not be done after surgery and what physical therapy will be needed for the body to recover.