The term “arthroscopy” is of Latin origin. The word “arthro” means joint and the word “scopy” means telescope or viewing instrument.
An arthroscope is a long, thin device (a little bit like a straw) which has an eye piece attached to one end. The narrow end can be passed into a knee joint through a tiny nick in the skin. This is so-called “keyhole surgery”. The arthroscope (or telescope) has a solid state camera attached to the eye piece end. A cable runs off to a colour television set and whilst the Orthopaedic Surgeon is sitting beside the patient, moving the viewing end of the telescope in and around the joint, he or she is usually looking at the television screen overhead.
The modern arthroscope is an outstanding device. It allows excellent and direct visualisation of almost every part of the joint. It is orders of magnitude better than it was 30 years ago when we used to open the joint to inspect the meniscus or the ligaments or the cartilage.
Knee arthroscopy is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but it can be performed under local anaesthesia or even regional anaesthesia. Three small nicks in the skin are usually used. One is for the insertion of the arthroscope, one is for the insertion of instruments that can be used to trim, shave or smooth the joint internally and the third is for the insertion of a drainage tube. Whilst the Orthopaedic Surgeon is performing the arthroscopic procedure, the joint is being washed or lavaged with an appropriate solution. This aids visualisation using the arthroscope and also removes debris or rubbish from the joint.
Most knee arthroscopic procedures can be performed as day surgery cases. A bandage is usually applied to the joint overnight but thereafter it can be removed. Physiotherapy can start within the next few days. Depending upon the procedure performed, your Orthopaedic Surgeon is likely to see you within the next week or two.
The types of operations that can be performed through the arthroscope include partial or complete meniscal removal, meniscal repairs, loose body removal, smoothing of the joint surfaces (chondroplasty), ligament reconstructions, microfracture of bare areas of the bone or lavage following infection.
As our techniques develop and the instruments become even more sophisticated, the list of procedures that can be performed within the joint through the arthroscope is forever increasing.