Arthroscopy of the shoulder
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.
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.
How can I prepare myself for the operation?
If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.
Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight.
Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
If you have not had the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.
What complications can happen?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
- chest infection
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
Consequences of this procedure
- unsightly scarring of your skin
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.
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
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Last reviewed: September 2022