What are the Different Reasons to Perform a Arthrotomy?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Joints are areas where bones meet in the body, and thus are an important focus of muscle and bone-based orthopedic medicine. In general terms, an arthrotomy — also called synosteotomy — occurs when an orthopedic physician makes an incision, or cut, into a joint. Two basic reasons exist for this procedure: inspection or treatment. A physician may need to see inside a joint so that he or she can diagnose joint pain or discomfort. Once a cause has been determined, the physician may also need to cut the joint open for surgical correction of the problem.

Joints that are broken, degenerated, or otherwise impaired can be discovered through an arthrotomy. One example of the procedure’s exploratory surgery capabilities rests in the ankle. The ankle contains two main joints. When an individual twists his or her ankle, one joint may be handle the sudden movement, but the other joint’s design is strained. Bones can thus become dislodged and connector muscles called ligaments torn. An arthrotomy can detect all of these potential problems.


This procedure is also used for orthopedic surgeries that correct joint injuries. In these cases, the physician must cut into the joint in order to repair its interior damage. Most treatment arthrotomies, however, are minimally invasive and typically do not require a prolonged hospital stay. Ligaments, connective tendons, and bone cartilage are some of the common areas worked upon in a corrective surgical procedure. Frequent areas for treatment include the knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles.

Many activities can a joint incision procedure necessary. Injuries sustained during sports or other activities frequently lead to joint malfunctions. In addition, some inflammatory or repetitive strain conditions like arthritis or carpel tunnel syndrome can cause joint damage.

One of the more severe reasons for arthrotomy is amputation, or the partial or complete removal of a body appendage such as an arm or leg. Since joints connect bones together, they are often the most logical place to sever one appendage from another. Likewise, a joint incision would likely be needed to attach a prosthesis — or artificial limb — to the remaining appendage as well.

An arthrotomy may have some drawbacks. The procedure usually requires stitches and large incisions that easily scar, and recovery may therefore be prolonged. The open exposure of the bones also makes complications more likely. For this reason, some experts advocate a more advanced exploratory technique known as arthroscopy, which can reduce the possibility of complications such as blood clots, bleeding, and swelling.

An arthroscopic procedure differs from an arthrotomy in that the former does not require cutting the joint open. During an arthroscopy, a device known as an arthroscope is inserted into the body. This long tube contains lenses and a camera, both features which are absent from arthrotomy tools. As the lenses magnify different parts of the joint for easier viewing, the camera helps transfer the images to a monitor within the surgical room.


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