Surgeons have been performing shoulder arthroscopies since the 1970s. It has made diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from surgery easier and faster than ever thought possible. Arthroscopy is a procedure that orthopedic surgeons use to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint. During shoulder arthroscopy, the surgeon inserts a small camera into your shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments. Because the camera and surgical instruments are small in size, only very small incisions are needed instead of a larger one that is needed for open surgery. Therefore, this results in less pain and shortens recovery time for patients.
Common causes of Shoulder Arthroscopy
Problems that can lead to a shoulder arthroscopy include acute injuries, overuse injuries, and wear and tear on the joint. The arthroscopy is only recommended when it is expected to relieve the painful symptoms that can lead to damage of the labrum, rotator cuff, articular cartilage, and other soft tissues around the shoulder joint. Common arthroscopic procedures include:
- Rotator cuff repair
- Bone spur removal
- Labrum repair
- Repair of ligaments
- Removal of inflamed tissue or loose cartilage
- Repair for recurrent shoulder dislocation
If the patient is generally healthy, arthroscopy shoulder surgery will be performed as an outpatient procedure and can usually take less than one hour. However, the length of surgery will ultimately depend on what the surgeon finds and the extent of the repairs needed. The procedure is usually performed using nerve blocks to numb the shoulder and arm. Yet, many surgeons also used sedation or light general anesthesia due to patients being uncomfortable staying in one position for the length of the surgery.During the procedure, a small incision is made and the tiny camera (arthroscope) is inserted into the shoulder so the doctor can see any damage on the inside of the shoulder. Once the surgeon identifies the extent of the damage, tiny instruments are inserted through other small incisions in order to repair the damaged shoulder. When the repair has been made, the surgeon will close the incisions usually with either stitches or steri-strips (small Band-Aids).
Recover from shoulder arthroscopy is often faster than open surgery, yet it may still take weeks for the shoulder joint to completely recover. Some pain and discomfort is likely for at least a week, and the doctor may prescribe medicine to help relieve it as much as possible. Sleep position for the first several days will be very important in keeping the shoulder comfortable and stable. Also, some type of sling will likely be needed to protect your shoulder during recovery. Rehabilitation is also very important during recovery of shoulder arthroscopy. An exercise program developed by your doctor or physical therapist will help regain strength and motion. Because every patient’s health differs from the other, recovery times will differ as well. Also, minor repairs will usually have much faster recovery than a more extensive arthroscopy. Most patients do not have complications from shoulder arthroscopy, but as with any surgery, there are some risks that the surgeon will discuss with the patient prior to the operation. These risks are usually minor and treatable and include infection, excess bleeding, blood clots, and nerve or blood vessel damage. Although it can be a slow process, following the surgeon's guidelines and rehabilitation plan is vital to a successful recovery.