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Arthroscopy is the examination of a joint, specifically, the inside structures. The procedure is performed by inserting a specifically designed illuminated device into the joint through a small incision. This instrument is called an arthroscope. The procedure of arthroscopy is primarily associated with the process of diagnosis. However, when actual repair is performed, the procedure is called arthroscopic surgery.


Arthroscopy is used primarily by doctors who specialize in treating disorders of the bones and
Arthroscopy is primarily used to help diagnose joint problems. This procedure, most commonly associated with knee and shoulder problems, allows accurate examination and diagnosis of damaged joint ligaments, surfaces, and other related joint structures. The illustration above indicates the most common entry sites, or portals, in knee arthroscopy.
Arthroscopy is primarily used to help diagnose joint problems. This procedure, most commonly associated with knee and shoulder problems, allows accurate examination and diagnosis of damaged joint ligaments, surfaces, and other related joint structures. The illustration above indicates the most common entry sites, or portals, in knee arthroscopy.
(Illustration by Electronic Illustrators Group.)
related structures (orthopedics) to help diagnose joint problems. Once described as essential for those who primarily care for athletic injuries, arthroscopy is now a technique commonly used by orthopedic surgeons for the treatment of patients of all ages. This procedure is most commonly used to diagnose knee and shoulder problems, although the elbow, hip, wrist, and ankle may also be examined with an arthroscope.
A joint is a complex system. Within a joint, ligaments attach bones to other bones, tendons attach muscles to bones, cartilage lines and helps protect the ends of bones, and a special fluid (synovial fluid) cushions and lubricates the structures. Looking inside the joint allows the doctors to see exactly which structures are damaged. Arthroscopy also permits earlier diagnosis of many types of joint problems which had been difficult to detect in previous years.


Most arthroscopic procedures today are performed in same-day surgery centers where the patient is admitted just before surgery. A few hours following the procedure, the patient is allowed to return home, although usually someone else must drive. Depending on the type of anesthesia used, the patient may be told not to eat for several hours before arriving. Before the procedure, the anesthesiologist will ask if the patient has any known allergies to local or general anesthetics. Airway obstruction is always possible in any patient who receives a general anesthesia. Because of this, oxygen, suction, and monitoring equipment must be available. The patient's cardiac status should always be monitored in the event that any cardiac abnormalities arise during the arthroscopy.


The arthroscope is an instrument used to look directly into the joint. It contains magnifying lenses and glass-coated fibers that send concentrated light into the joint. A camera attached to the arthroscope allows the surgeon to see a clear image of the joint. This image is then transferred to a monitor located in the operating room at the time of the arthroscopy. This video technology is also important for documentation of the arthroscopic procedure. For example, if the surgeon decides after the arthroscopic examination that a conventional approach to surgically expose or "open" the joint (arthrotomy) must be used, a good photographic record will be useful when the surgeon returns to execute the final surgical plan.
The procedure requires the surgeon to make several small incisions (portals) through the skin's surface into the joint. Through one or two of the portals, a large-bore needle, called a cannula, is attached to tubing and inserted into the joint. The joint is inflated with a sterile saline solution to expand the joint and ensure clear arthroscopic viewing. Often, following a recent traumatic injury to a joint, the joint's natural fluid may be cloudy, making interior viewing of the joint difficult. In this condition, a constant flow of the saline solution is necessary. This inflow of saline solution may be through the cannula with the outflow through the arthroscope, or the positions may be reversed. The arthroscope is placed through one of the portals to view and evaluate the condition of the joint.


Before an arthroscopy can take place, the surgeon completes a thorough medical history and evaluation. Important for the accuracy of this diagnostic procedure, a medical history and evaluation may discover other disorders of the joint or body parts, proving the procedure unnecessary. This is always an important preliminary step, because pain can often be referred to a joint from another area of the body. Anatomical models and pictures are useful aids to explain to the patient the proposed arthroscopy and what the surgeon may be looking at specifically.
Proper draping of the body part is important to prevent contamination from instruments used in arthroscopy, such as the camera, light cords, and inflow and outflow drains placed in the portals. Draping packs used in arthroscopy include disposable paper gowns and drapes with adhesive backing. The surgeon may also place a tourniquet above the joint to temporarily block blood flow to the area during the arthroscopic exam.
General or local anesthesia may be used during arthroscopy. Local anesthesia is usually used because it reduces the risk of lung and heart complications and allows the patient to go home sooner. The local anesthetic may be injected in small amounts in multiple locations in skin and joint tissues in a process called infiltration. In other cases, the anesthetic is injected into the spinal cord or a main nerve supplying the area. This process is called a "block," and it blocks all sensation below the main trunk of the nerve. For example, a femoral block anesthetizes the leg from the thigh down (its name comes from femur, the thighbone). Most patients are comfortable once the skin, muscles, and other tissues around the joint are numbed by the anesthetic; however, some patients are also given a sedative if they express anxiety about the procedure. (It's important for the patient to remain still during the arthroscopic examination.)

Key terms

Hemarthrosis — A condition of blood within a joint.
Pulmonary embolus — Blockage of an artery of the lung by foreign matter such as fat, tumor, tissue, or a clot originating from a vein.
Thrombophlebitis — Inflamation of a vein with the formation of a thrombus or clot.
General anesthesia, in which the patient becomes unconcious, may be used if the procedure may be unusually complicated or painful. For example, people who have relatively "tight" joints may be candidates for general anesthesia because the procedure may take longer and cause more discomfort.


The portals are closed by small tape strips or stitches and covered with dressings and a bandage. The patient spends a short amount of time in the recovery room after arthroscopy. Most patients can go home after about an hour in the recovery room. Pain medication may be prescribed for a short period; however, many patients find various over-the-counter pain relievers sufficient.
Following the surgical procedure, the patient needs to be aware of the signs of infection, which include redness, warmth, excessive pain, and swelling. The risk of infection increases if the incisions become wet too early following surgery. Because of this, it is good practice to cover the joint with plastic (for example, a plastic bag) while showering after arthroscopy.
The use of crutches is commonplace after arthroscopy, with progression to independent walking on an "as tolerated" basis by the patient. Generally, a rehabilitation program, supervised by a physical therapist, follows shortly after the arthroscopy to help the patient regain mobility and strength of the affected joint and limb.


The incidence of complications is low compared to the high number of arthroscopic procedures performed every year. Possible complications include infection, swelling, damage to the tissues in the joint, blood clots in the leg veins (thrombophlebitis), leakage of blood into the joint (hemarthrosis), blood clots that move to the lung (pulmonary embolus), and injury to the nerves around the joint.

Normal results

The goal of arthroscopy is to diagnose a joint problem causing pain and/or restrictions in normal joint function. For example, arthroscopy can be a useful tool in locating a tear in the joint surface of the knee or locating a torn ligament of the shoulder. Arthroscopic examination is often followed by arthroscopic surgery performed to repair the problem with appropriate arthroscopic tools. The final result is to decrease pain, increase joint mobility, and thereby improve the overall quality of the patient's activities of daily living.

Abnormal results

Less optimal results that may require further treatment include adhesive capsulitis. In this condition, the joint capsule that naturally forms around the joint becomes thickened, forming adhesions. This results in a stiff and less mobile joint. This problem is frequently corrected by manipulation and mobilization of the joint with the patient placed under general anesthesia.



Glassman, Scott. "Advances in Treating Shoulder Injuries." Advanced Magazine for Physical Therapists (December 1997): 10-12.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


examination of the interior of a joint with an arthroscope.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


(ar-thros'kŏ-pē), Avoid the incorrect form orthoscopy.
Endoscopic examination of the interior of a joint.
Synonym(s): arthroendoscopy
[arthro- + G. skopeō, to view]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


n. pl. arthrosco·pies
Examination of the interior of a joint, such as the knee, using a type of endoscope that is inserted into the joint through a small incision.

ar′thro·scope′ (är′thrə-skōp′) n.
ar′thro·scop′ic (-skŏp′ĭk) adj.
ar′thro·scop′ic·al·ly adv.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Orthopedics The direct examination of a joint–eg, shoulder, wrist, knee, ankle, with an arthroscope Indications Diagnose and/or biopsy lesions of the meniscus, synovium, and extrasynovial tissues, and manage intraarticular lesions–eg, torn ligaments and cartilage Abnormal findings Baker's cyst, chondromalacia, chondromatosis, fractures, osteochondral disruption, fractures, osteochondritis dissecans, rheumatic disease, synovial defects, capsular or ligament tears Complications Nerve damage related to portal placement, postoperative joint infection, soft tissue or bone infections. See Arthroscope, Arthroplasty.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Endoscopic examination of the interior of a joint.
Synonym(s): arthroendoscopy.
[arthron, joint + G. skopeō, to view]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


(ar-thros′kŏ-pē) [ arthro- + -scopy]
Enlarge picture
Direct joint visualization by an arthroscope, usually to remove, repair, or replace tissue, such as cartilage fragments or torn ligaments, or to anneal injured tissues. arthroscopic (ar″thrŏ-skop′ik), adjective See: illustration

Patient care

Preoperative: The patient is prepared physically and emotionally for the procedure. Baseline data (e.g., range of motion, girth measurements) are gathered. The operative site is prepared according to protocol and type of anesthesia.

Postoperative: Vital signs are monitored until stable, and intravenous or oral fluids are provided, depending on the type of anesthesia used. Neurovascular status is assessed. The surgical dressing is inspected for drainage, and the presence of any drainage devices and their contents are documented. Postoperative teaching stresses expected sensations, such as joint soreness and grinding; the application of ice to relieve pain and swelling; use of analgesics; restrictions on activity or walking; weight-bearing exercises; and use of crutches or other such devices. The patient is instructed to report any unusual drainage, redness, joint swelling, unusual softness in the joint, severe or persistent pain, or fever, because these may indicate infection, effusion, hemarthrosis, or a synovial cyst. The patient is referred for outpatient follow-up care as necessary.

Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners


Examination of the inside of a joint by an optical device, usually a fine bore fibreoptic endoscope.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Endoscopic examination of the interior of a joint.
[arthro- + G. skopeō, to view]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Arthroscopically combined anterior and posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction in the multiple ligament injured knee: 2- to 10-year follow-up.
The outcome and repair integrity of completely arthroscopically repaired large and massive rotator cuff tears.
Arthroscopically there were no further ligamentous or meniscal pathologies in any of the patients included in this study.
The data was gathered from patients with AC dislocations who had been treated with arthroscopically assisted CC fixation using a single flip button device.
(2012) Can arthroscopically assisted treatment of chronic patellar tendinopathy reduce pain and restore function?
All visible loose bodies were removed [Figure 4], the synovium was examined for the abnormal area, and these were excised arthroscopically. The appearances of the bodies and the synovium were recorded.
Outcome and clinical signs of arthroscopically graded patellar chondromalacia with or without lateral release.
In our case there was extended trochanteric involvement and we preferred to start antitubercular chemotherapy after histopathological confirmation of the disease, Arthroscopically performed drainage and bursectomy followed by antitubercular chemotherapy has been reported as a modality of treatment (3).
Objective: This retrospective observational study aims to explore the treatment procedure and outcomes of arthroscopically assisted radiotherapy for diffuse pigmented villonodular synovitis (PVNS) of the knee joint.
Hoffa's fat pad impingement treated arthroscopically: related findings on preoperative MRI in a case series of 62 patients.
of the graft was controlled arthroscopically. The portals were closed with a drain and the incisions were closed too regularly.