Arthroscopy Diagram

Arthroscopy is one of many options to ease joint pain

Orthopaedists have many different tools to help address their patients’ bone and joint issues.

One of those is arthroscopy, a minimally invasive alternative to open joint surgery, and the most commonly performed orthopedic surgical procedure.

Arthroscopy involves using a thin  fiberoptic scope (an arthroscope), which is inserted into the joint through a small incision. It contains lighting and a camera, which transmits to video so the surgeon can see inside the joint. There is also a small lens and a light, allowing them to magnify difficult areas.

Since the surgeon is able to view and treat the joint without fully opening it up, there’s less trauma to the joint and less scarring.

Other advantages over open joint surgery include:

  • Less pain and swelling after the surgery
  • Shorter recovery times
  • Lower risk of complications
  • Better visualization of joint structures

Tracie Douglas was born with a condition called hip impingement, which has caused her to walk oddly — causing strain on her knees. This has resulted in 10 different knee surgeries over the last 20+ years.

Dr. Thomas Fyda of Great Basin Orthopaedics (GBO) arthroscopically removed a shredded meniscus from her left knee several years ago.

“Before the surgery, a piece of meniscus would sometimes catch, causing me extreme pain, and my knee would sometimes lock,” she says. “It was the easiest of the knee surgeries I’ve had. It healed fast, and I had very little physical therapy. I wish all my knee surgeries could have been so easy!”

Related: How to prepare for your orthopaedic surgery

The Procedure

Arthroscopy is an outpatient procedure, which means the patient will go home the same day. It does require anesthesia though, so it’s important to have someone take them home afterward and stay with them that first night.

Once the patient is anesthetized, the surgeon will make a small incision, one that is significantly smaller than those made in open joint surgery. The surgeon will fill the joint with irrigation fluid to distend the joint and rinse away any fluid obstructing their view. An arthroscope is then inserted into the opening. In some instances, the surgeon will need to remove a small amount of tissue to access the joint, and they’ll do this with a specialized shaver called a resector.

The arthroscope is not only used for surgical repairs, but also for diagnosis. Orthopaedists can use it to view the inside of almost all joints, but the most common are knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, ankle and hip. Commonly, they’ll be attempting to diagnosis these conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Baker’s cysts
  • Bone fractures
  • Bone spurs
  • Bursitis
  • Cartilage transfer
  • Damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • Damaged medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • Damaged or deteriorating cartilage
  • Damaged ulnar collateral ligament (UCL)
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Irritated, enlarged, or inflamed knee (Plica syndrome)
  • Loose cartilage
  • Loose cartilage and bone fragments
  • New cartilage stimulation (Microfracture)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scar tissue release
  • Tendonitis
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Torn or damaged meniscus
  • Torn rotator cuff or labrum

After surgery, most patients will stay in the recovery room for one to two hours before being discharged.

Recovery times

As with any medical procedure, recovery times will vary depending on the joint being addressed, the patient’s overall health, the type of damage being diagnosed and repaired, and other contributing factors.

Most people will experience some pain and discomfort for at least a week following the surgery. The doctor will usually prescribe pain medication to be taken regularly following the surgery.

For the best outcomes, physical therapy will also be prescribed to restore strength and mobility. The orthopaedist and physical therapist will also advise what other exercises can be done in the weeks and months following the surgery.

Related: Why physical therapy matters

If you’re suffering from bone or joint pain, call GBO at (775) 786-6100 to schedule a consultation to discuss all of your options. You don’t have to live with the pain, and the solution might be easier than you think.