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January 21, 2019  
EDUCATION CENTER: Shoulder Procedures
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  • Arthroscopy

    Reviewed by Dr. Peter Simonian

    Arthroscopy has become a valuable tool in diagnosing and treating problems of the shoulder. “Arthro” means joint and “scope”, to see or visualize. It literally means to see inside the joint. The indications (reasons for performing an arthroscope) are varied. They include cartilage, tendon, and ligamentous damage.

    Sometimes, the arthroscope is used to determine the cause of shoulder pain.

    Detailed Description

    Image courtesy of Grant's Atlas of Anatomy

    Orthopedic surgeon

    Before the procedure:

    Occasionally, X-rays, physical exams, MRI scans and various other diagnostics may be ordered to get a clear picture of what doctors can expect to see inside the shoulder joint before the arthroscopy. Directly before the surgery, the patient is anesthetized, with either a general or regional anesthetic.

    During the procedure:

    Two to four small incisions are strategically placed about the shoulder joint. Instruments are inserted through one and the camera through another. Sometimes other small incisions (called portals) are used to facilitate fluid drainage of the shoulder or to allow additional instruments to be introduced into it. During arthroscopy, sterile fluid is pumped into the shoulder to keep the joint large enough so the camera and instruments can fit in the joint space. It also helps to keep the camera lens clean and free of debris and allows the ability to washout any debris from the joint.

    The doctor will use the arthroscope as a probe, moving it slowly through the joint while watching a small monitor nearby. The monitor shows a magnified picture of the inside of the shoulder joint, helping the doctor to diagnose and treat many problems within. Some arthroscopic procedures may involve removing bone spurs, stray cartilage or scar tissue as well as stabilization of the shoulder and rotator cuff repair.

    The patient usually recovers quickly, as the procedure is far less invasive than open-shoulder procedures.


    • Blood clots (very rare)
    • Surgical wound infection
    • Reaction to anesthesia
    • Risk of developing arthritis
    • Weakening of muscles
    • Stiffness
    • Neurovascular injury


    Regional (nerve block), local and/or general anesthesia, over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications after procedure.

    Tell your doctor if…

    You experience increasing pain or prolonged swelling or decreasing joint motion after the procedure. Also, if you experience any symptoms suggestive of infection such as general malaise (tiredness) or fever.

    Last updated: 27-Aug-07


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