An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery that is used both to diagnose problems with the joints and to repair damage to the joints.
The procedure is most commonly used on the knees, wrists, elbows, ankles and shoulders.
If you have problems with your joints, such as swelling or stiffness, and initial imaging tests have not been able to find what is causing the problem, an arthroscopy might be recommended to look at the inside of the joint.
As well as allowing a surgeon to look inside a joint, an arthroscopy can also be used to treat a range of problems and conditions. For example, an arthroscopy can be used to:
Read more about what an arthroscopy can be used for.
During an arthroscopy, a piece of equipment called an arthroscope is used.
An arthroscope is a small, flexible tube that is about the length and width of a drinking straw. Inside there is a bundle of fibre optics. These act as both a light source and a camera. Images are sent from the arthroscope to a video screen or an eyepiece so that the surgeon is able to see the joint.
It is also possible for tiny surgical instruments to be passed through an arthroscope to allow the surgeon to treat conditions or problems such as those listed above.
The surgeon will make a small incision next to the joint so that the arthroscope can be inserted. One or more small incisions will also be made to allow an examining probe or, if necessary, surgical instruments, to be inserted.
An arthroscopy is usually carried out under general anaesthetic. This is where the person having the procedure is put to sleep so that they do not feel any pain or discomfort. Occasionally, a local anaesthetic may be used, where the area being treated is numbed.
An arthroscopy is usually performed on an out-patient basis, which means that the person being treated is able to go home on the same day as the surgery.
Read more about how an arthroscopy is performed.
An arthroscopy is usually a safe type of surgery and the risk of serious complications developing is low (less than 1 in a 100).
However, possible complications include infection and accidental damage to nerves near the affected joint.
Read more about the complications of an arthroscopy.
The advantages of an arthroscopy compared with traditional open surgery include:
Read more about the advantages of an arthroscopy.
The time it takes to recover from an arthroscopy can vary depending on the joint involved and whether it needs to be repaired. It is usually possible for a person to do light, physical activities one to three weeks after having surgery. Full physical activities, such as lifting and sport, can usually be resumed after six to eight weeks.