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St. Mary's Center for Orthopaedics

Shoulder Arthroscopy

What is Shoulder Arthroscopy?

Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure. The procedure requires only small incisions and is guided by a miniature viewing instrument or scope, which allows the doctor to examine the joint in great detail. If treatment is necessary, tiny surgical instruments are inserted.  Arthroscopy has a number of benefits over traditional open surgery, including:

  • No cutting of muscles or tendons, which means less tissue damage
  • Smaller incisions, which means less scarring
  • Shorter recovery period
  • Decreased pain
  • Decreased risk of infection

Arthroscopy allows for more accurate diagnosis of the shoulder’s condition and precise treatment for many shoulder conditions. It also is used to assess the need for further treatment options and possible future surgical procedures.

What Shoulder Conditions can be Treated with an Arthroscopic Procedure?

Some conditions an arthroscopic procedure can be used to treat include:

  • Severely damaged, degenerated or torn rotator cuffs
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Shoulder joint instability and recurrent dislocations
  • Torn or damaged cartilage ring (labrum) or ligaments
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome and bone spurs around the rotator cuff and inflamed bursal material
  • Inflammation or damage of the joint lining caused by rheumatoid arthritis
  • Loose cartilage and bone debris
  • Torn bicep tendons can be repaired and reattached to the bone of the humerus
  • The clavicle section of the acromioclavicular joint (the AC joint), can be removed when it becomes damaged by arthritis
  • Arthritis at the end of the clavicle (collarbone)

Who is a Candidate for an Arthroscopic Procedure?

If a patient is experiencing any of the aforementioned conditions or has pain in the shoulder joint that is not responding to non-surgical treatments such as:

  • Rest
  • Activity modifications
  • Stretching and physical therapy
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications and injections

then a shoulder arthroscopy may be recommended.  The need for an arthroscopic procedure must be assessed by an experienced physician.  People suffering from pain and loss of motion are encouraged to seek out a physician if problems impede their ability to function normally in their everyday lives. Arthroscopy is not appropriate for every patient. Your physician will evaluate your condition and discuss the diagnostic and treatment options that are best for you.

How Long does an Arthroscopic Procedure Take?

Shoulder arthroscopy uses less anesthesia than a regular shoulder surgery procedure. Most arthroscopic procedures are about an hour in length. Almost all patients can return home the same day as the procedure.

What Results can be Expected Following an Arthroscopic Procedure?

  • Although arthroscopy is not considered “open” surgery, it may take several weeks to several months for pain to totally subside and motion to be restored. Ice should be applied to reduce discomfort and swelling while some pain medications may also be prescribed during recovery.
  • A sling should be worn initially to protect the shoulder and reduce shoulder movements; this allows the shoulder proper time and space to heal.
  • Once the shoulder has adequate time to recover from the procedure, a physical therapy schedule is assigned to stretch, exercise and recondition the shoulder for resumption of an active lifestyle. The length of therapy will depend on the type of surgery and repair that was done.