Thursday, July 30, 2009

What is an arthroscopy?

Arthro is a prefix meaning joint. It is from the Greek word for joint, 'arthron'.

The suffix '-oscopy' mean to look inside.

Put together you have 'looking inside a joint'. Occasionally, an arthroscopy is used purely for diagnostic purposes and this literal definition stands true. Usually however, the surgeon does more than just look inside, they take action and address any pathology found. Today, the term arthroscopy refers to any procedure performed using small incisions and an arthroscope.

During an arthroscopy, a camera is placed into the joint via one incision and the tools to perform the surgery via another. Arthroscopy is also known as "key hole surgery" due to the small incision size.

The small incision means less trauma to the joint and quicker recovery times. It is also considerably less painful compared to an open surgical procedure. Most arthroscopies are day cases, with the patient able to return home that night.
The knee is the most common joint to be operated on via arthroscopy. Meniscal tears are the main indication for arthroscopic surgery. They can be trimmed back to a stable base, retaining the healthy meniscus. This has a much better result than the historical treatment of an open total menisectomy.
Because of the small incisions and instruments used, there is a limit to how much can be done via arthroscopy. Despite this, even when a larger incision is required, surgeons now do as much as possible with the arthroscope before resorting to traditional methods.
The many benefits of arthroscopy means that if it is possible to do all that needs to be done, it will be done that way. Less pain and swelling, shorter stay, and decreased risk of infection are the positives, the only limits are what you can achieve through such a tiny incision - often so small it doesn't require stitches, tape may be enough.
Unfortunately you can't do total knee replacement via arthroscopy - you can't fit the prosthesis through a 1/4 inch incision. Who knows what the future holds, but for now arthoscopy is a highly efficient way to do minor orthopaedic surgery.

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