An arthroscopy is usually a day case procedure which lasts between 15 to 45 minutes. More extensive surgery can sometimes take up to 2-3 hours.
Preparing for surgery
Before having an arthroscopy, you will usually be given an appointment to attend a pre-admission clinic.
During your appointment your general fitness will be assessed to ensure that you are ready for surgery. You will also be given information about issues such as:
- what and when you are allowed to eat and drink on the day of the surgery
- whether you should stop or start any medications before surgery
- how long it will take for you to recover from surgery
- whether you will need to do rehabilitation exercises after surgery
The surgical team will explain the benefits and risks that are associated with having an arthroscopy. You will also be asked to sign a consent form to confirm that you agree to have the operation and that you understand what is involved, including the risks and benefits.
The arthroscopy operation
An arthroscopy is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, although occasionally it can be performed under spinal anaesthesia, or with local anaesthetic. Your anaesthetist (a doctor trained in giving people anaesthetic) will explain which type of anaesthetic is most suitable for you. In some cases you may be able to express a preference.
If you have a local anaesthetic your joint will be numbed so that you do not feel any pain. However, you may still feel some sensations during the procedure, such as a mild tugging, as the surgeon works on the joint.
Anti-bacterial fluid is used to clean the skin over the affected joint and a small incision, a few millimetres long, is made to enable the arthroscope to be inserted.
One or more additional incisions will also be made so that an examining probe, or other instruments can be inserted.
The surgeon may fill the joint with a sterile fluid to expand it and make it easier to view. They will be able to see inside your joint using an eyepiece or a video screen. If possible, during the procedure, they will repair any damaged areas and remove any unwanted tissue.
After the procedure, the arthroscope plus any attachments are removed along with any excess fluid from the joint. The incisions are closed using paper tape or stitches and covered with a sterile dressing.