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Surgeon and Author, Dr. Stuart Gold,
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What Should Patients Know About Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

July 14th, 2011

A good portion of patient face arthroscopic shoulder surgery. That said, I am often asked, “Can you explain what is arthroscopic shoulder surgery?” and “How is it performed?” If these questions apply to you, I’d encourage you to read on…

Arthroscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery, allows physicians to examine and treat damages to a joint. By using a miniature camera and tools, the surgeon can perform his work through a much smaller incision, reducing scarring, recovery time and pain for the patient. Unlike open shoulder surgery in which the joint and connecting muscle tissue must often be subjected to trauma, arthroscopy allows the surgeon to restrict his work to the area in need of repair.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery can be performed to correct a wide variety of injuries and diseases. One of the most common procedures is to repair a torn rotator cuff. Until recently, many surgeons reserved arthroscopic surgery for only small tears and repaired larger tears with open surgery. Advances in techniques, however, now permit even large tears to be repaired arthroscopically. Results for the procedure so far appear equivalent to traditional open surgery

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Arthroscopy is frequently used to repair a dislocated shoulder or other condition that results in instability of the joint. Superior labral  anterior to posterior tears (SLAP), are common among athletes whose sports require them to throw, such as baseball pitchers. In the past, a SLAP tear could end a pitcher’s career. New arthroscopic techniques, however, allow a greater percentage of athletes suffering such injuries to return to their sports.

Complications resulting from arthroscopic shoulder surgery are rare but possible. Like all surgery, there is a risk of infection. Some patients can develop blood clots or excessive bleeding or swelling. It is also possible for nerves or blood vessels to be damaged during the procedure. Occasionally the surgeon may discover that the problem cannot be adequately corrected through arthroscopic surgery and there may need to perform a traditional open surgery, or a ‘mini’ open procedure.

Each patient’s surgery is unique, but most arthroscopic surgeries can be performed on an outpatient basis or with no more than an overnight stay in the hospital. Pain is variable and depends on the type of procedure performed as well on the patient’s pain thresh hold. With smaller procedures (debridements and decompressions)  patients can often resume many activities within days of the arthroscopy. With more complex procedures as instability and rotator cuff surgeries, return to activity is much slower. Physical therapy or specific exercises may be ordered to speed the patient’s rehabilitation.

I hope that helps you learn more about arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

Until next time,

About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

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