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Shoulder arthroscopy is surgery that uses a tiny camera called an arthroscope to examine or repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint. The arthroscope is inserted through a small incision (cut) in your skin.
SLAP repair; Acromioplasty; Bankart; Shoulder repair; Shoulder surgery
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that cover your shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold your arm in your ball and socket shoulder joint, and they help you move your shoulder in different directions. The tendons in the rotator cuff can tear when they are overused or injured.
Most people receive general anesthesia before this surgery. This means you will be unconscious and unable to feel pain. Or, you may have regional anesthesia. Your arm and shoulder area will be numbed so that you do not feel any pain in this area. If you receive regional anesthesia, you will also be given medicine to make you very sleepy during the operation.
First, your surgeon will examine your shoulder with the arthroscope. Your surgeon will:
- Insert the arthroscope into your shoulder through a small incision. The arthroscope is connected to a video monitor in the operating room.
- Inspect all the tissues of your shoulder joint and the area above the joint -- the cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments.
- Repair any damaged tissues. To do this, your surgeon will make 1 - 3 more small incisions and insert other instruments through them. A tear in a muscle, tendon, or cartilage will be fixed. Damaged tissue may need to be removed.
Your surgeon may do one or more of these procedures during your surgery:
- Rotator cuff repair: The edges of the muscles are brought together. The tendon is attached to the bone with sutures. Small rivets (called suture anchors) are often used to help attach the tendon to the bone. The anchors can be made of metal or plastic. They do not need to be removed after surgery.
- Surgery for impingement syndrome: Damaged or inflamed tissue is cleaned out in the area above the shoulder joint itself. Your surgeon may also cut a specific ligament, called the coracoacromial ligament, and shave off the under part of a bone. This under part of the bone is called the acromion. The spur can be a cause of inflammation and pain in your shoulder.
- Surgery for shoulder instability: If you have a torn labrum, the rim of the shoulder joint that is made out of cartilage, your surgeon will repair it. Ligaments that attach to this area will also be repaired. The Bankart lesion is a tear on the labrum in the lower part of the shoulder joint. A SLAP lesion involves the labrum and the ligament on the top part of the shoulder joint.
At the end of the surgery using the arthroscope, your incisions will be closed with stitches and covered with a dressing (bandage). Most surgeons take pictures from the video monitor during the procedure to show you what they found and what repairs they made.
Your surgeon may need to do open surgery if there is a lot of damage. Open surgery means you will have a large incision so that the surgeon can get directly to your bones and tissues. Open surgery is a more complicated surgery.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
Arthroscopy may be recommended for these shoulder problems:
- A torn or damaged cartilage ring (labrum) or ligaments
- Shoulder instability, where the shoulder joint is loose and slides around too much or becomes dislocated (slips out of the ball and socket joint)
- A torn or damaged biceps tendon
- A torn rotator cuff
- A bone spur or inflammation around the rotator cuff
- Inflammation or damaged lining of the joint. Often this is caused by an illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Arthritis of the end of the clavicle (collarbone)
- Loose tissue need to be removed
- Shoulder impingement syndrome, to make more room for the shoulder to move around
Risks for any anesthesia are:
The risks for any surgery are:
Risks of shoulder arthroscopy are:
Failure of the surgery to relieve symptoms
Failure of the repair to heal
Weakness of the shoulder
Injury to a blood vessel or nerve
Before the Procedure
Always tell your health care provider what drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.
During the 2 weeks before your surgery:
- Two weeks before surgery you may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), and other drugs.
- Ask your health care provider which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
- If you have , , or other medical conditions, your surgeon will ask you to see your doctor who treats you for these conditions.
- Tell your health care provider if you have been drinking a lot of alcohol, more than 1 or 2 drinks a day.
- If you smoke, try to stop. Ask your health care provider or nurse for help. Smoking can slow down wound and bone healing.
- Always let your doctor know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery.
On the day of your surgery:
- You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything for 6 - 12 hours before the procedure.
- Take your drugs your health care provider told you to take with a small sip of water.
- Your health care provider will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
Recovery can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months. You will probably have to wear a sling for the first week. If you had a lot of repair done, you may have to wear the sling longer.
You may take medicine to control your pain.
When you can return to work or play sports will depend on what your surgery involved. It can range from 1 week to several months.
For many procedures, especially if a repair is performed, physical therapy may help you regain motion and strength in your shoulder. The length of therapy will depend on the repair that was done.
Arthroscopy is an alternative to "open" surgery that completely exposes the shoulder joint. Arthroscopy results in less pain and stiffness, fewer complications, shorter (if any) hospital stays, and faster recovery sometimes.
If you had repair done, your body still needs time to heal after arthroscopic surgery, just as you would need time to recover from open surgery. Because of this, your recovery time may still be long.
Surgery to fix a cartilage tear is usually done to make the shoulder more stable. Many people recover fully, and their shoulder stays stable. But some people may still have shoulder instability after arthroscopic repair.
Using arthroscopy for rotator cuff repairs or tendinitis usually relieves the pain, but you may not regain all of your strength.
Elkousy HA, Edwards TB. Shoulder: Development of skills for shoulder surgery. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 17, section Q.
Phillips BB. Recurrent dislocations. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 45.
Phillips BB. Arthroscopy of the upper extremity. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 49.
- Last reviewed on 6/30/2011
- C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery; and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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This page was last updated: April 14, 2014