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Innovations in Orthopedic Surgery: What is Arthroscopic Surgery?

Written by Joshua Alpert, MD on August 16, 2013

Historically in orthopedic surgery, treating an injury to a knee or shoulder joint consisted of a making a large incision to visualize the joint and treat the ailment. In order to gain access to the joint, significant muscle and soft tissue was dissected, which lead to a large amount of pain, and ultimately an inpatient hospital stay for even the most minor orthopedic joint procedures.

Recently, a minimally invasive orthopedic surgical procedure called arthroscopy (arthro = joint, scopy = look) has allowed surgeons to use a fiber-optic camera to look inside a joint using small “poke hole” incisions. Arthroscopy requires minimal soft tissue dissection, and ultimately causes less post-operative pain and disability than open procedures.

Arthroscopy gives doctors a clear view of the inside of the joint, most commonly the shoulder and the knee. By accessing the joint with small incisions, the joint capsule, muscle, and ligaments are preserved. This allows for less damage to normal tissue, faster healing time, and earlier rehabilitation. Most arthroscopic surgery is done as an outpatient (patient goes home the same day as the surgery).

During the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon inserts the arthroscope (a small camera instrument) into the joint. The joint is filled with clear water to expand the joint and the arthroscope sends the image to a television monitor. This allows the orthopedic surgeon to see the structures of the joint on the monitor in great detail. To do this, small surgical instruments are inserted through other incisions around the joint, and using arthroscopic techniques, the damaged structures within the joint are repaired.

Arthroscopy is most commonly used to diagnose and treat orthopedic injuries such as rotator cuff or labral tears in the shoulder, or ACL and meniscus tears in the knee. Recent advances have made previously difficult joints to access such as the elbow, wrist, hip, and ankle commonplace in arthroscopic surgery. These and other improvements have made arthroscopy the standard of care and a very effective tool for treating many types of orthopedic injuries.

Joshua Alpert, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon, fellowship trained in sports medicine and arthroscopy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard. As an active member of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, Dr. Alpert treats individuals of all ages. He is a physician with the Midwest Bone & Joint Institute, which has served the Chicago area for over 30 years. He may be reached at 847-931-5300.

Schedule an Appointment with Dr. Alpert