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Shoulder arthroscopy is a surgical procedure in which an arthroscope is inserted into the shoulder joint. The benefits of arthroscopy are smaller incisions, faster healing, a more rapid recovery, and less scarring. Arthroscopic surgical procedures are often performed on an outpatient basis and the patient is able to return home on the same day.

Arthroscopy may be recommended for shoulder problems such as:

  • Evaluation and treatment of instability
  • A torn or damaged cartilage ring (labrum) or biceps tendon
  • A torn rotator cuff
  • Stiffness of the shoulder
  • Subacromial decompression
  • Arthritis of the end of the clavicle
  • Treatment of frozen shoulder
  • Removal of loose bodies
  • Debridement / drainage of shoulder joint infection

An arthroscope is a small fiber-optic viewing instrument made up of a tiny lens, light source, and video camera. The video camera attached to the arthroscope displays the image of the joint on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to look throughout the shoulder and view the cartilage, ligaments, and the rotator cuff.

The surgeon makes small incisions around the joint area. In one portal, the arthroscope is inserted to view the shoulder joint. Along with the arthroscope, sterile solution is pumped to the joint which expands the shoulder joint, giving the surgeon a clear view and room to work. Other portals are used for the insertion of surgical instruments to probe various parts within the joint to repair the damaged shoulder.

Arthroscopy is much less traumatic to the muscles, ligaments, and tissues than the traditional method of surgically opening the shoulder with long incisions (open techniques).

Following the surgery, you will wake up in a sling which is to be worn at all times in the first 72 hours then you may take it off to shower. Pain medications will also be provided to help control post-operative pain. There will be bandages around the operated shoulder which can be removed after 72 hours. Slight swelling of the shoulder may be present after the surgery which is normal. Placing ice-packs on the shoulder for about 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day for the first 72 hours after surgery helps reduce the swelling. You can return to normal activities when you feel comfortable and a follow-up visit should be scheduled 3-5 days after surgery to monitor your progress.

Physical therapy is prescribed to restore your range of motion and strength. The amount of therapy that you will need depends on what type of surgery was performed. Physical therapy is very important in optimizing your outcome. It is hard to estimate when you can return back to work or sport, as each surgery is highly variable. It is important to anticipate the expected length of recovery; it often can be estimated before surgery. You can drive when you are off all narcotic pain medications and you no longer require the sling. Ask your doctor before you drive and practice in a parking lot first.