Whether you’re taking a step or raising your hand, your joints help you move freely. But living with a worn or injured joint can make an active lifestyle painful. Arthroscopy can be used to visualize, diagnose and, in many cases, treat your joint problem. Other diagnostic tests are usually done before arthroscopy and include a complete history and exam, possible X-ray, CT (computerized tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). After arthroscopy, you may be able to return to many of the activities you once enjoyed.

Two healthcare providers wearing surgical gowns, masks, and hats doing surgery with arthroscope in knee. They are looking at video monitor.

Why arthroscopy?

  • The surgeon can often find and treat the problem during one procedure.

  • The surgeon can often see the joint better than with open surgery.

  • Smaller incisions are used than with open surgery. As a result, you may recover faster and have less scarring.

How arthroscopy works

To look inside your joint, your surgeon will use an arthroscope. This is a slender instrument about the size of a pencil that contains a lens and a light source. The arthroscope and other special tools are inserted into the joint through tiny incisions. Using a camera, the arthroscope sends an image of your joint to a monitor. This lets your surgeon see your joint more clearly. You will still receive anesthesia, either general, spinal, or local, so that you will not feel the arthroscopy at all. 

Risks of arthroscopy

As with any surgery, arthroscopy involves some risks. These are rare, but include:

  • Excess bleeding

  • Blood clots

  • Infection

  • Instrument failure in surgery

  • Damage to nerves and blood vessels

  • A shift to open surgery that would need a larger incision