Arthroscopic surgery: a minimally invasive procedure to examine and treat joints

Written by: Mr Rohit Madhav
Published: | Updated: 29/01/2019
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Arthroscopy (or keyhole surgery) is a surgical procedure during which the internal structure of a joint is examined for diagnosis and treatment of potential problems that may be occurring from inside. It is most commonly used on the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips.

Which conditions can arthroscopy diagnose and treat?

The use of arthroscopy can be used by an orthopaedic surgeon to examine joints, and can be helpful to diagnose and treat the following conditions:

  • inflammation (synovitis): of the lining of the knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle
  • acute or chronic injury: to the shoulder, knee and wrist joint, such as cartilage injuries, tendon tears, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • osteoarthritis: which is caused by cartilage loss in a joint
  • the removal of loose bone or cartilage that is trapped within the joint. 

Treatment options include cartilage repair, joint fusion and bone/scar tissue removal.

What happens during an arthroscopy?

During an arthroscopic examination either a general, spinal or local anaesthesia will be given, depending on the condition. A small incision, the size of a buttonhole, is made into the patient’s skin. Pencil-sized instruments that have a small lens and lighting system are passed. The arthroscope magnifies and illuminates the structures of the joint with the light that is transmitted through fibre optics. It is attached to a television camera and the interior of the joint is seen on the television monitor. Other accessory incisions will be made, through which specially designed instruments are inserted.

After the procedure is completed, the arthroscope is removed and incisions are closed. The patient may be instructed about the incision care, activities to be avoided and exercises to be performed for faster recovery.

What are the risks of arthroscopy?

Some of the possible complications after an arthroscopy may include:

  • infection
  • phlebitis (clotting of blood in the vein)
  • excessive swelling
  • bleeding
  • blood vessel or nerve damage
  • instrument breakage.

How long does recovery take?

It may take several weeks for the puncture wounds to heal and the joint to recover completely. A rehabilitation program may be advised for a speedy recovery of normal joint function. In most cases, you will be able to go back to basic activities within a few days.

By Mr Rohit Madhav
Orthopaedic surgery

Mr Rohit Madhav is a highly-experienced consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon with specialist training both in the UK and internationally in complex foot and ankle surgery. He has over 8 years’ experience at University College London Hospitals NHS Trust and has treated many professional and amateur athletes and dancers.
He is a former founding partner of the London Orthopaedic Clinic and has a well-established private practice in Central London.

Throughout his long and varied career he has gained considerable knowledge, experience and technical ability in the diagnosis and treatment of lower limb injuries and ailments. These include foot and ankle problems such as bunions, hammer toes, Achilles tendon and other tendon disorders, arthritis, joint replacements, fractures, cartilage and ligament surgery. He is highly-skilled in the use of arthroscopic and other minimally invasive surgical techniques.

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