Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure, in which small fiber optic cameras are used to see inside a joint to assist with diagnosis, as well as treatment of various conditions. This can be useful when imaging techniques, such as X-rays and MRIs, are unable to identify pathology within the joint. By using an arthroscope, the surgeon can see inside the joint without creating a large incision.
What Can be Treated with Arthroscopic Surgery?
Many joints in the lower extremity are amenable to arthroscopic surgery, including the ankle and subtalar joints. The procedure is used to treat conditions such as arthritis, bone spurs, torn cartilage, torn ligaments, certain types of fractures, joint infection, osteochondral defects, loose bodies, and following athletic injuries. More recently, arthroscopic surgeries have been utilized for larger reconstructive surgeries, such as ankle fusions and complicated fractures. Though most commonly used for joint pathology, arthroscopy can be used in other instances, such as surgical treatment for plantar fasciitis. Arthroscopic surgery also allows for more accurate diagnosis of any underlying conditions that may not show up on X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Not all conditions can be treated arthroscopically, but in cases where arthroscopy is possible, the recovery time is often much quicker than those that require traditional surgery.
Where Does the Surgery Take Place?
These procedures can be performed as an outpatient and allow patients to recover more quickly, have less scaring, lower chance of infection and bleeding, and can provide immediate pain relief. Surgery can be performed in an operating room at a hospital or surgery center.
How is the Surgery Performed?
Arthroscopic surgery is typically done under general or regional anesthesia. One small hole (portal) is created for the arthroscope (camera). The arthroscope transmits an image of the inside of the joint, which is viewed by the surgeon on a video monitor in the operating room. Sterile fluid is circulated through the joint to distract the joint and create space while the joint is being visualized. Other small portals can also be created to insert small surgical instruments that can be used to clean up arthritic joints, or to repair damaged ligaments. Each portal may be closed with just one or two stitches. There will be some swelling and bruising after the surgery. Overall recovery time is determined by the exact procedure performed. A thorough discussion between patient and surgeon is vital to talk about the best treatment course, as well as activity level and recovery goals post-operatively. Though arthroscopic surgery may not be appropriate for everyone, it is a great alternative to many procedures that require a bigger incision and longer recovery periods.