The medical term “arthrotomy” means “cutting into a joint.” Also known as a synosteotomy, this procedure can be performed for a variety of reasons, usually as part of a larger surgery that is intended to address a problem inside the joint or an issue with one or more of the bones which articulates at the joint. Procedures of this nature are usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon, a medical professional who specializes in surgeries involving the bones and joints.
One reason to perform these procedure is to gain access to the joint for the purpose of a joint repair or replacement surgery. Cutting into the joint may be necessary to access the surgical field and to make the interior of the joint visible to the physician. It also increases healing time, however. Historically, surgeons had to weigh the damage caused by arthrotomy with the need to access the joint when making treatment recommendations to patients.
Today, cutting into the joints is less necessary because surgeons can perform arthroscopic surgery. In this type of procedure, cameras are inserted into the joint along with tools that can be used to perform manipulations inside the joint. This allows the surgeon to work within the surgical field without having to cut the joint open to do so. Minimally invasive surgery is safer for the patient, decreases the risk of complications, and shortens healing time considerably, making it an appealing choice when it is an available option.
Cutting into a joint may also be necessary during an amputation or during exploratory surgery in which arthroscopic surgery is not an option. Arthroscopy may not be possible in some emergency situations, for example, or when a joint is badly crushed so that the surgeon cannot understand what is going on inside the surgical field without looking at it directly.
When arthrotomy is required as part of a medical procedure, the surgeon uses specialized tools that have been designed for cutting quickly and efficiently into the joints while minimizing damage. The surgeon plans out the cuts ahead of time so that when the patient is on the table, the surgeon already has a plan in mind for performing the surgery. Patients should be aware that even “routine” surgeries can have complications, and a good surgeon will discuss the potential risks of a procedure before it begins so that the patient will be prepared ahead of time.