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Shoulder Arthroscopy

What is Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is performed to repair damaged tissues surrounding the shoulder joint using a tiny camera called an arthroscope. This procedure is also performed to evaluate and diagnose problems affecting the shoulder joint. Using a small incision, the arthroscope is placed under your skin and allows your doctor to examine all the tissues, bones and muscles that compose your shoulder joint. The arthroscope displays images of your shoulder joint on a screen. Your surgeon will use the images displayed on the screen as a guide for the procedure.

Why is Shoulder Arthroscopy Performed?

Shoulder arthroscopy is performed to help ameliorate various issues including:

  • Torn or damaged cartilage
  • Torn or damaged ligaments
  • A torn rotator cuff
  • Damaged biceps tendons
  • Inflammation surrounding the joint
  • Inflammation surrounding the rotator cuff
  • Bone spurs
  • Arthritis at the end of the collarbone
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome
  • Shoulder instability

Your surgeon will evaluate your shoulder’s condition and determine if arthroscopic surgery is the correct approach. In some cases, open surgery may be needed if extensive damage or a severe injury is present.

How Should You Prepare for Shoulder Arthroscopy?

In preparation for surgery, your surgeon will recommend that you see your primary physician for blood work, an electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray to ensure that you are in good health to undergo surgery. In order to avoid complications during the procedure, you should inform your surgeon of any medications or supplements that you are currently taking.




Most arthroscopic procedures are performed as outpatient surgery, which means a hospital stay is not required. Anesthesia will be administered during the procedure so it is important to follow the directions given to you regarding what to do before the procedure and when to arrive at the medical site. It is especially important to refrain from eating or drinking for as many hours as the doctor before the surgery.

What are the Risks Involved in Having Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is a highly successful procedure with minimal risks. There are, however, some risks involved in any surgery. In this case, the risks include:

  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • Failure to repair the condition or to completely alleviate the symptoms
  • Injury to the nerve tissue or blood vessels surrounding the joint

It is important to discuss the risks with your surgeon prior to the procedure to determine whether arthroscopic shoulder surgery is the right choice for you.

How is Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery Performed?

Once you are in the operating room, your surgeon will position you in a way that will permit the arthroscope to be maneuvered effectively. You will be asked to either lie back in a reclined position or on your side. The position chosen will be based on the type of procedure being performed. Your shoulder and arm will be prepared with an antiseptic solution and sterile drapes. Your forearm may be placed in a device to keep it still during the procedure.

Regional nerve blocks are the most common form of anesthesia used for this procedure. Sedation may also be administered to make you feel more comfortable and relaxed.

During arthroscopic shoulder surgery, your joint will be inflated with fluid to make the area easier to view. A small incision is made with the use of the arthroscope and the images created with the device are viewed on a video screen. Using separate incisions, small surgical instruments are inserted to repair the issue. As the procedure is being performed, fluid flows through the arthroscope to keep the field of view clear and control any bleeding. The incisions are closed with either stitches or steri-strips and secured with a soft bandage.

What Can be Expected After Surgery?

It is necessary to have someone accompany you and from your surgery. Pain and discomfort can be expected after the procedure and can be controlled with either prescribed pain medication or over-the-counter medication, such as Tylenol. Swelling in the area is also expected and can be controlled with ice. Some patients find it more comfortable to rest and sleep propped up or reclined in a chair for the first few days.

A sling or immobilizer is typically recommended to protect your shoulder until it is fully healed. In order to effectively regain stability and flexibility of your joint, your surgeon will recommend daily rehabilitation exercises and/or physical therapy. Depending on the nature of your condition and on the particular procedure performed, it can take a few weeks or few months until your shoulder is completely healed.

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