What Is Arthroscopy? - Definition, Procedure & Recovery

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

Although a very funny word, an arthroscopy is a very common and effective orthopedic surgery. The following lesson will highlight what an arthroscopy is, how it is performed, and anticipated recovery time.

What Is an Arthroscopy?

Unless you have had orthopedic surgery, or known someone who has, you may never have heard the word arthroscopy. As funny as this word sounds, it is a very common orthopedic surgery. This lesson will provide you with the definition, basic procedure steps, and estimated recovery periods for this type of surgery.


An arthroscopy is a surgical procedure in which a surgeon inspects a joint through a tiny camera. Arthroscopies can be helpful to diagnose joint conditions, or treat an already diagnosed problem. It is considered a minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive surgeries use only small incisions to gain access to the surgical site. It is an outpatient procedure, meaning that the patient will go home after the surgery and not have to stay in the hospital to recover.

Arthroscopies are done by orthopedic surgeons and can be performed on many parts of the body, including the:

  • Shoulder
  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Ankle

The most commonly performed arthroscopies are on the shoulder and knee.


An arthroscopy can be performed in a hospital or surgery center. The patient isn't allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery. Patients typically arrive one to two hours before their scheduled surgery start time. This allows for the patient to be evaluated by the surgical team (nurse, surgeon, and anesthesiologist) before the surgery begins.

The patient and anesthesiologist will decide what type of anesthesia will be best for the patient. The patient could be under general anesthesia, where the patient is completely asleep. The patient could also ask for a regional block, which means that they are awake during the surgery but cannot feel anything past the point where medication was injected.

Once the patient is in the room, the anesthesiologist will begin to administer anesthetics, and the nurse begins to position the patient and clean the area being operated on. A surgical drape is placed over the affected joint, and then the surgery will begin.

Steps In an Arthroscopy

  1. Surgeon makes several small incisions with a sterile knife
  2. Small plastic or metal trocars are placed into the incisions
  3. Sterile fluid is pumped into the area to distend the joint to create space and rinse away debris
  4. A small camera is placed through one of the incisions, and the surgeon inspects the joint
  5. Depending on what the surgeon sees, he/she can use surgical instruments to fix defect(s)
  6. Once the defect(s) are fixed, the surgeon removes the trocar(s)
  7. A small size suture is used to close the skin where the incisions were made
  8. Dressing is applied to the affected joint

Types of defects that can be corrected through an arthroscopy:

  • Ligament and/or tendon damage
  • Removal of foreign bodies
  • Removal of worn bone or other tissues
  • Removal of excessive tissue

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