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Posted on in Orthopedics

Arthroscopy – The Most Common Orthopedic Procedure

Medically Reviewed by Pat Denton, MD - Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates

Although it is not generally used for total joint replacement surgery, arthroscopy is very commonly performed on the knee and other joints for diagnosing and treating problems.  One source claims more than 4 million are performed worldwide annually. In this article, we’ll focus on the knee arthroscopy, because 17 out of 20 of the procedures are performed on this joint.

“Like most other so-called minimally invasive surgical procedures, arthroscopy uses a long thin tube (about as large around as a pencil),” says Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Pat Denton of Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates. “A small (1/4-1/2”) incision is made. The first tube has a TV camera and I can see the image on a high definition monitor in the Operating Room. If I need to make a repair, additional small incisions are made to insert tools.”

The most common diagnostic reasons for an arthroscopy are:

  • Identify the reason for joint pain or stiffness.
  • Find what’s causing swelling.
  • Determine what’s behind instability in the joint – “popping out” or giving away unexpectedly.

Arthroscopic surgery can be used to treat these conditions:

  • Repairing or removing torn cartilage (meniscus) between the knee bones.
  • Fixing a torn or damaged Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) or Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – a common problem among young women.
  • Removing “bone spurs”, painful abnormal growths.
  • Eliminating excessive scar tissue from an injury that prevents the joint from working properly.
  • Draining fluid (called synovia) around the joint that is inflamed. This problem is also known as “Baker’s Cyst,” named after Dr. William Baker who discovered it in 1877.

The procedure is often done as same-day surgery, with the patient avoiding an overnight hospital stay.  (Nevertheless, patients should have a relative or friend to drive them home and stay with them for several days.)

Patients should have less pain and a faster recovery than with traditional surgery. One study indicated that 80% of arthroscopy patients returned to walking, yard work and other light activity within a week of their surgery. After 2 weeks, 94% returned to light activity and within a month, literally all patients were active.

Your surgeon may prescribe physical therapy after the procedure to speed your return to full activity.

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Sources include:  McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, BC Medical Journal,, National Health Service (UK), American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

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