Orthopaedic surgeons use arthroscopy to view inside joints. The minimally invasive procedure takes place through small incisions. It enables providers to diagnose and treat problems like arthritis, rotator cuff tears, carpal tunnel syndrome and ACL tears. Different types of arthroscopy treat different joint and ligament concerns.


What is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure to diagnose and treat your joint’s structural problems, which often cause pain, instability or other dysfunction. The surgeon uses an arthroscope, a long, thin tube with a video camera and light on the end.


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Who performs arthroscopy?

Orthopaedic surgeons perform arthroscopic procedures. These doctors specialize in conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system.

What are the types of arthroscopy?

Surgeons use arthroscopy to see inside joints without having to make large incisions. Types of arthroscopy include:

  • Elbow arthroscopy.
  • Foot and ankle arthroscopy.
  • Hand and wrist arthroscopy.
  • Hip arthroscopy.
  • Knee arthroscopy.
  • Shoulder arthroscopy.


Why do healthcare providers perform arthroscopy?

Providers use arthroscopy to diagnose and treat a range of joint, tendon and ligament problems, such as:

Who needs arthroscopy?

Your healthcare provider may recommend an arthroscopic procedure if you have injured or damaged your meniscus, cartilage, tendons and/or ligaments. Arthroscopy may be an option if you don’t get relief from nonsurgical treatments such as:


Procedure Details

What happens before arthroscopy?

You should follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about what to do before an arthroscopic procedure. In general, you should:

  • Alert your provider of any allergies.
  • Give your provider a list of medications and supplements you take.
  • Let your healthcare provider know about any blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) before the procedure.
  • Not eat or drink after midnight the day preceding the procedure.

What happens during arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is typically an outpatient procedure, which means you go home the same day. You’ll receive anesthesia, so someone needs to drive you home and stay with you for the rest of the day.

The steps for arthroscopic procedures vary depending on the problem. Most procedures take about an hour, but some arthroscopies take longer.

During arthroscopy, an orthopaedic surgeon:

  • Makes two or three small incisions (about the size of a buttonhole) in the treatment area.
  • Inserts the arthroscope and other tiny surgical instruments into the small incisions.
  • Views images sent from the arthroscope to a monitor to examine joints, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.
  • Refers to the arthroscope images to make a diagnosis or surgically treat the problem.
  • Removes the arthroscope and surgical instruments.
  • Closes the incisions with stitches and a bandage.

What happens after arthroscopy?

You should be able to go home within a couple of hours after the procedure. You may need to:

  • Avoid putting weight or pressure on the area for a time. If you had arthroscopy on your hip or leg, you might need to use crutches or another assistive device.
  • Ice and elevate the area.
  • Keep the incision clean and covered.
  • Take NSAIDs for pain.
  • Take showers, not baths, until the incision heals.
  • Wear a sling or brace.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure. The procedure takes place through small incisions. Compared to an open surgery, the benefits include:

  • Faster recovery.
  • Less pain.
  • Minimal blood loss and scarring.

What are the potential risks or complications of arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a relatively safe procedure. Potential complications include:

Recovery and Outlook

When will I know the results of an arthroscopic procedure?

Your healthcare provider will review diagnostic findings or treatment results with you on the day of the procedure.

What is recovery like after an arthroscopic procedure?

Most people recover faster after arthroscopy than an open surgery that requires large incisions. Still, a full recovery can take months. But, depending on the procedure, you may be able to return to work within a few days.

Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy (PT). PT can help speed recovery, strengthen muscles and prevent future injuries.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Extreme pain or bleeding at the incision site.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or redness at the incision site.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Arthroscopy is a safe, effective way for healthcare providers to examine joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons and perform treatments. These procedures treat all types of joint and ligament problems using very small incisions for a faster recovery with less pain and scarring than other surgeries.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/09/2021.

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