Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive diagnostic and surgical procedure performed for joint problems. Shoulder arthroscopy is performed using a pencil-sized instrument called an arthroscope. The arthroscope consists of a light system and camera that relays images of the surgical site onto a computer screen for your surgeon to view. Arthroscopy is used to treat disease conditions and injuries involving the bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and muscles of the shoulder joint.
The shoulder joint is made up of a ball and socket joint, where the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) articulates with the socket of the scapula (shoulder blade) called the glenoid. The two articulating surfaces of the bones are covered with cartilage, which prevents friction, enabling smooth movement. Tendons and ligaments around the shoulder joint provide strength and stability to the joint. Injury and disease to the bones or soft tissues of the shoulder joint can make it unstable, and lead to pain, inflammation and reduced mobility.
Shoulder arthroscopy is indicated to treat the following shoulder conditions when conservative treatments, such as medication and therapy, fail to relieve pain and disability:
Your surgeon performs shoulder arthroscopy under general or regional anesthesia. You may be positioned on your side with your arm propped up or sitting in a semi-seated position. Sterile fluid is injected into the shoulder joint to expand the surgical area so your surgeon has a clear view of the damage and room to work. A button-sized hole is made in the shoulder and the arthroscope is inserted. Your surgeon can view images captured by the camera in the arthroscope on a large monitor. Surgical instruments are introduced into the joint through separate small holes to remove and repair the damage to the joint. After surgery, the instruments are removed and the incisions are closed with stitches or small sterile bandage strips.
After the surgery, the small surgical wounds take a few days to heal and the surgical dressing is replaced by simple Band-Aids. The recovery time depends on the type and extent of the problem for which the procedure was performed. Pain medications are prescribed to keep you comfortable. The arm of the affected shoulder is placed in a sling for a short period as recommended by your doctor. Physical therapy is advised to improve shoulder mobility and strength after the surgery.
The advantages of arthroscopy compared to open surgery (with a large incision) include:
As with all surgeries, shoulder arthroscopy may be associated with complications such as infection, bleeding, damage to nearby nerves or blood vessels, and delayed healing after the surgery. In certain cases, stiffness of the shoulder joint may occur after the surgery. It is important to participate actively in your physical therapy to prevent this from occurring.