Arthroscopic Surgery FAQs

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive option for some patients with joint problems like tears or cartilage damage. Surgeons use a narrow scope — called an arthroscope — and special surgical tools to access a joint. Because the surgeon makes very small "keyhole" incisions, patients have less pain, less risk of infection, less blood loss and recover more quickly.


While any joint can benefit from arthroscopic surgery, the most common joints are the knees and shoulders, as well as the hips, ankles, elbows and wrists.

Procedures can include anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other ligament or tendon repairs, carpal tunnel surgery, bursitis surgery and more.

Arthroscopic surgery is a great choice for many people, but it’s not the right choice for everyone. Patients who would benefit from traditional, open surgery instead include those with a severe degenerative joint disease — like osteoarthritis — who have lost a significant amount of joint cartilage. Patients with narrow joint spaces may also require open surgery. And patients with large tendon or ligament tears often experience a higher recovery rate with open surgery.
Arthroscopic surgery has been safely performed for more than two decades, so risk is low. As with any surgery, complications can include blood clots, infection, swelling, bleeding, damage to blood vessels or nerves, and muscle damage.

One difference from open surgery is that you may be given general or regional anesthesia, depending on the joint and the extent of the problem.

During surgery, your surgeon makes several small incisions and inserts an arthroscope and specialized tools to repair the joint damage. Afterward, Steri-strips or sutures are used to close the incisions, which are then covered with a bandage.

Once you are ready to go home, your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your wounds, exercises you should do and activities to avoid.

Recovery from arthroscopic surgery can take as little as a week or up to several months, depending on the joint repair. You can expect some soreness and pain, but most people can return to light activity within hours or a couple days after surgery.

For your best recovery, follow the instructions on how to take care of your wounds and perform strength-building exercises, but don’t push yourself beyond your doctor’s advice.