Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Arthroscopy of the shoulder

3-minute read

This page will give you information about an arthroscopy of the shoulder. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is an arthroscopy of your shoulder?

An arthroscopy (keyhole surgery) is performed to diagnose and treat problems in your shoulder joint. It involves examining the inside of the joint using a telescope inserted through small cuts on your skin.

What are the benefits of surgery?

The aim is to confirm exactly what the problem is and for many people the problem can be treated at the same time.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Problems inside a joint can often be diagnosed using tests such as CT scans and MRI scans. However, they do not show early damage to the surface of joints, damage to small ligaments or how bad any damage is, and you may then need an arthroscopy to treat the problem.

Illustration of an arthroscopy of the shoulder.
An arthroscopy of the shoulder.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but sometimes a nerve block is used, where local anaesthetics and other painkillers are injected near the major nerves to your arm.

The operation usually takes about 40 minutes.

Your surgeon will usually make about two to four small cuts, about half a centimetre long, around the joint. They will insert a small telescope through one of the cuts so they can examine the joint. They will insert surgical instruments through the other cuts if they need to treat any problems with the joint.

What complications can happen?

Some of these can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

Specific complications of this operation

  • bleeding into the joint
  • infection in your shoulder joint
  • severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your arm and hand
  • damage to nerves around the joint

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day.

The physiotherapist may give you exercises and advice to help you to recover from the operation.

It can take up to 3 months to get back to normal activities.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people have a major improvement but it takes time for pain to lessen and movement to increase. Symptoms often come back with time.

Summary

An arthroscopy of your shoulder allows your surgeon to diagnose and treat problems affecting the joint, without the need for a large cut on your skin. This may reduce the amount of pain you feel and speed up your recovery.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Bad shoulder? Keyhole surgery found lacking - myDr.com.au

A particular type of keyhole surgery doesn’t appear to be any more beneficial than placebo surgery when it comes to shoulder impingement syndrome.

Read more on myDr website

Arthroscopy - Better Health Channel

Most people can resume normal activities around three weeks after an arthroscopy.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Shoulder pain - myDr.com.au

Find out about the causes and treatment of shoulder pain, including frozen shoulder, rotator cuff syndrome, dislocated shoulder and arthritis.

Read more on myDr website

Surgery for arthritis — Arthritis Australia

An introduction to the most common types of surgery for arthritis, including tips on when to talk to your doctor about surgery and how to get prepared

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Endoscopy - myDr.com.au

Endoscopy is a medical procedure where a doctor uses a thin flexible lighted tube inserted into the body to look for, diagnose, treat and prevent disease.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo