Procedures Explained: Joint Arthroscopy
When you are experiencing pain, discomfort, and lack of mobility in your body, it is important to explore every possible cause. For problems that are occurring inside your joints, an arthroscopy may be required. An arthroscopy is a surgical examination that allows the surgeon to actually look inside the joint and identify any potential problems.Arthroscopy comes from two Greek words. The first is “artho” which translates to “joint” and the second is “skopein” which translates to “to look.” Literally it means “to look within the joint.” An arthroscopy is one of the final steps toward diagnosis and usually comes after the doctor has completed a thorough medical history, a physical examination, and usually either X-rays, an MRI, and/or a CT scan.
So just what happens in an arthroscopy? To complete this examination, an orthopedic surgeon will create a small incision in the skin near the joint. He then places the arthroscope into the incision. An arthroscope is about the size of a pencil and it contains a small lighting system and a small lens, both which work together to illuminate and magnify the joint onto a larger screen (which is attached to the arthroscope). The surgeon can then look at the magnified image and determine the cause of the problem. In many cases, the surgeon can then immediately perform the surgery needed in order to treat the injury.
An arthroscopy is often less invasive and more effective than other “open” or exploratory types of surgery. Several of the most common diagnoses that can be done through arthroscopy include inflammation of the joints, torn cartilage, tears in the rotator cuff tendon, carpal tunnel syndrome, loose bodies of cartilage and/or bone, and torn ligaments. The most commonly examined joints are the shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle, hip and wrist.
As an anesthetic or sedation is commonly used during an arthroscopy, patients often find themselves asleep immediately following the procedure. To recover from an arthroscopy, the surgeon will wrap the joint (and all of the incisions) with a bandage and (if necessary) prescribe pain medication. The patient will be asked to rest and elevate the joint, apply ice packs, and keep the bandage dry for several days following the arthroscopy. Once the bandage has been removed (which should only be done by the surgeon or the nurse), the surgeon will determine any additional treatments, physical therapy, or recovery program needed depending on the type of problem or injury that was revealed during the procedure.