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What is Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Arthroscopic shoulder surgery requires a small arthroscope camera to view and repair injured shoulder joint tissues. Some patients may need to undergo arthroscopic surgery to resolve persistent shoulder problems. Preparing for the procedure and following the doctor's orders increase the chances of a successful outcome. Depending on the damage, the doctor may perform one or more arthroscopy procedures. Recovery from arthroscopic shoulder surgery may take weeks or even months.

Known as an alternative to open shoulder surgery, arthroscopic surgery does not expose the shoulder joint, but involves a tiny incision in the surgical area. A specialized camera, or arthroscope, then is inserted into the shoulder. The arthroscope connects to a video monitor for viewing in the operating room.

Shoulder pain and discomfort are among the reasons some people opt for arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The procedure may be recommended to repair a torn rotator cuff or torn ligaments and cartilage within the shoulder area. Arthroscopy also corrects problems such as shoulder impingement, inflammation, or bone spurs. Shoulder instability or damage from rheumatoid arthritis usually qualify for arthroscopic shoulder surgery as well.

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Approximately two weeks before the surgery, the doctor usually orders the patient to stop taking any medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, that may prevent the blood clotting necessary during surgery. Patients must also avoid eating or drinking anything up to 12 hours before the operation to avoid complications. Activities like smoking or drinking alcohol should also be avoided before surgery because they may delay the healing process. Patients with heart disease, diabetes or other conditions must consult with their doctor for appropriate treatment prior to surgery.

During the arthroscopic shoulder surgery, the doctor uses the arthroscope to examine the shoulder joint tissues as well as the surrounding bones, tendons, cartilage and ligaments. A few incisions are made along with additional instruments to repair the area of the shoulder joint. Different types of specific procedures may be performed depending on the shoulder condition.

In the case of shoulder instability, the surgeon repairs the torn ligaments and labrum, or shoulder joint rim. To repair shoulder impingement syndrome, the surgeon cleans out the area of inflamed or damaged tissue around the shoulder joint. Then the surgeon cuts the coracoacromial ligament and shaves off the acromion, or the underside of the bone near the shoulder joint. Patients also undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery for rotator cuff repair. This specific arthroscopy brings together the edges of the muscles within the shoulder joint, then attaches the tendon to the bone with sutures.

Recovery from arthroscopic shoulder surgery varies depending on the patient's condition. Healing time ranges anywhere from one week to six months. Patients must wear a sling during the first one or two weeks of recovery to protect the shoulder as it heals. The doctor may also prescribe medication to ease some of the pain. Following the arthroscopic shoulder surgery and recovery time, the patient usually participates in physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in the shoulder.

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