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Arthroscopic Surgery: 5 Things to Know About This Treatment for Joint Injuries

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Posted by J. Milo Sewards, MD

Whether you’re a professional athlete or just act like one on the weekends, joint injuries are all too common. They can suddenly occur from some type of physical activity in the form of sprains, strains or dislocations. These are known as acute injuries. Or, they can happen from activities that call for repetitive movement, known as repetitive motion or overuse injuries.

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive treatment option for joint injuries as a result of sports or recreational activities. Although the procedure has been available for many years, patients still come in with a lot of questions. Here’s what you need to know:

1. What kinds of joint injuries can be treated with arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery can be performed on many different joints, including the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.

When it comes to sports and recreational activities, common conditions that may be treated with arthroscopic surgery include:

Damaged cartilage

The bones are lined with tissue called cartilage that protects your bones and provides a connection between bones. When your cartilage is damaged, you may experience a limited ability to move in the area of the injury, along with stiffness and swelling.

Torn tendons and ligaments

Tendons are the tissues that connect your bones to your muscles and help with movement. Ligaments help to stabilize your joints. ACL reconstruction is an example of an arthroscopic procedure performed to treat an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee.

An ACL injury can occur during soccer, basketball or tennis, or during any sport as the result of stopping/starting quickly or jumping. People with this type of injury often describe a sudden pop or feeling that the knee is giving away.

Bone chips or cartilage fragments

Cartilage or bone fragments can occur as a result of injury, causing pain and swelling. Sometimes called loose bodies, these tiny fragments may or may not be seen on an X-ray. During an arthroscopic procedure, your surgeon is able to find the fragments and remove them.

Instability or dislocation

We see quite a few dislocated shoulders as a result of sports injuries or falls. When a joint slips out of place, you may experience sudden or intense pain, and feel like your joint is loose. If the joint does not go back into place on its own, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

Even if it does go back into place, it’s a good idea to have the area evaluated to make sure that the joint will stay in place and that you do not have damage that can worsen with time.

Joint inflammation

When you have an injury, such as a ligament tear or dislocation, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the affected area. This causes heat, swelling and stiffness that can become chronic.

An arthroscopic procedure may be an option when conservative treatments, such as medication and physical therapy, are not enough to help heal your inflammation.

2. How is arthroscopic surgery performed?

Although arthroscopic surgery is minimally invasive, it is still performed in an operating room. Depending on the type of procedure, you may have local anesthesia to numb the area, or general anesthesia, where you sleep through the surgery.

The surgery is generally performed using small incisions to insert an arthroscope into the affected joint. The arthroscope is a pencil-sized surgical instrument with a camera that projects onto a monitor in the operating room. This allows your surgeon to look at the damaged area.

To perform the surgery, additional instruments, such as lasers, are inserted through separate tiny incisions. Once the procedure is completed, your incisions are closed using stitches or steri-strips.

You can usually be released from recovery within 1–2 hours with care instructions.

3. What are the advantages of arthroscopic surgery?

Because arthroscopic procedures are performed using small incisions, arthroscopic surgery can get you back to your favorite activities quickly, with minimal scarring and pain.

You can expect to return to your normal activities, with restrictions, within a couple of days.

4. Are there any risks with arthroscopic surgery?

There are risks associated with any procedure, but patients usually do well with arthroscopic surgery. If complications do occur, they may include infection, blood clots or nerve damage.

Your orthopaedic surgeon will go over all of this with you before the procedure to make sure you understand everything.

5. Am I a candidate for arthroscopic surgery?

If you’ve already tried a nonsurgical treatment, such as medications, physical therapy or injections for your joint injury, you may be a candidate.

I always advise patients to schedule an evaluation with an orthopaedic surgeon, who has the experience to decide if arthroscopic surgery is an option. Make sure to bring a list of questions with you to your first visit, along with any test results you may have available.

If you have more questions or think you may be a candidate for arthroscopic surgery, schedule an appointment with a Temple orthopaedic surgeon. It’s important to keep up with your health, and we provide safe in-office appointments and virtual visit options to ease any concerns you may have about seeking care.

J. Milo Sewards, MD

Dr. Sewards is an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with clinical interests in arthroscopic surgery, tendon and ligament repair, and reconstruction of the shoulder, elbow and knee. He is also Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

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