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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Arthroscopic surgery refers to procedures in which surgeons operate on joints through small incisions. This is in contrast to the single large incision used in traditional open surgery.

Using an arthroscope, surgeons can illuminate and magnify the internal structure of joints. An arthroscope is a thin, tubular instrument. It contains a light source and specialized lenses.

Arthroscopic surgery uses small incisions. So recovery is usually less painful than traditional surgery.

In addition, arthroscopic surgery:

  • Has fewer complications

  • Requires a shorter hospital stay (or no stay)

  • Is less expensive

  • Allows a quicker recovery

Most arthroscopic procedures are done on the knee joint. Others involve the shoulder. Arthroscopic surgery can also be done on the ankle, elbow, wrist and hip. But these procedures are much less frequent. And success is less certain.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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