Years ago, surgery to repair a joint usually meant a large incision and a long, painful recuperation. These days, patients are finding relief from joint ailments through arthroscopic surgery, or arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure that allows for a less painful and faster recovery.
In many cases, arthroscopy is performed on an outpatient basis, eliminating the need for an overnight hospital stay. It’s most often used to treat:
- bone spurs or loose bone fragments
- torn cartilage or ligaments
- inflamed or infected joints
- scar tissue
- unexplained joint pain
If you’ve tried medication, physical therapy and joint supports and they’re no longer helping, you may be a candidate for arthroscopy. Because arthroscopy results in less trauma to muscles, ligaments and tissues than conventional open surgery that uses longer incisions, patients have less scarring, heal faster and resume normal activities sooner.
The type of anesthesia you’ll need—local, regional or general—depends on the joint that’s affected and the procedure’s complexity. During arthroscopy, the surgeon makes small incisions in the area around the joint. In one incision, he or she inserts an arthroscope, a small tube equipped with a camera, lenses and a light for viewing. A video monitor lets the surgeon see inside the joint to repair damage using surgical tools inserted through the other incisions. A simple arthroscopy lasts about one hour.
After the surgery, you’ll be sent home to recover and rest for several days, keeping the joint elevated and applying ice to relieve swelling and pain. You’ll likely be able to resume normal activities in a few days, although the joint may take several weeks to fully heal. Depending on the joint operated on, your doctor may suggest physical therapy or the use of crutches or a cane during your recovery.