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 cut (incision) in your skin.
Your shoulder is a complex joint that is capable of more motion than any other joint in your body. It is made up of three bones: your upper arm bone (humerus), your shoulder blade (scapula), and your collarbone (clavicle).
Ball and socket. The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid. A slippery tissue called articular cartilage covers the surface of the ball and the socket. It creates a smooth, frictionless surface that helps the bones glide easily across each other.
The glenoid is ringed by strong fibrous cartilage called the labrum. The labrum forms a gasket around the socket, adds stability, and cushions the joint.
Shoulder capsule. The joint is surrounded by bands of tissue called ligaments. They form a capsule that holds the joint together. The undersurface of the capsule is lined by a thin membrane called the synovium. It produces synovial fluid that lubricates the shoulder joint.
Rotator cuff. Four tendons surround the shoulder capsule and help keep your arm bone centered in your shoulder socket. This thick tendon material is called the rotator cuff. The cuff covers the head of the humerus and attaches it to your shoulder blade.
Bursa. There is a lubricating sac called a bursa between the rotator cuff and the bone on top of your shoulder (acromion). The bursa helps the rotator cuff tendons glide smoothly when you move your arm.
When Is Shoulder Arthroscopy Recommended?
When nonsurgical treatments such as rest, physical therapy or medications have failed to relieve your shoulder pain, arthroscopy may be recommended. This advanced procedure can be used to treat a wide range of shoulder problems, whether it is from injury, overuse or age-related wear and tear. Our sports medicine physicians use shoulder arthroscopy to successfully treat the following:
- Rotator cuff tears
- Labral tears
- Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
- Biceps tendonitis
- Inflamed tissue or loose cartilage
- Recurrent shoulder dislocations
- Bone spurs
These photos taken through an arthroscope show a normal shoulder joint lining (left) and an inflamed joint lining damaged by frozen shoulder.
Positioning and Preparation
Once in the operating room, you will be positioned so that your surgeon can easily adjust the arthroscope to have a clear view of the inside of your shoulder. The two most common patient positions for arthroscopic shoulder surgery are:
- Beach chair position. This is a semi-seated position similar to sitting in a reclining chair.
- Lateral decubitius position. In this position the patient lies on his or her side on an operating table.
Each position has some slight advantages. Surgeons select positions based on the procedure being performed, as well as their individual training.
Once you are positioned, the surgical team will remove hair, if needed, and then spread an antiseptic solution over your shoulder to clean the skin. They will cover your shoulder and arm with sterile drapes, and will most likely place your forearm in a holding device to ensure your arm stays still.
Your surgeon will first inject fluid into the shoulder to inflate the joint. This makes it easier to see all the structures of your shoulder through the arthroscope. Then your surgeon will make a small puncture in your shoulder (about the size of a buttonhole) for the arthroscope. Fluid flows through the arthroscope to keep the view clear and control any bleeding. Images from the arthroscope are projected on the video screen showing your surgeon the inside of your shoulder and any damage.
Once the problem is clearly identified, your surgeon will insert other small instruments through separate incisions to repair it. Specialized instruments are used for tasks like shaving, cutting, grasping, suture passing, and knot tying. In many cases, special devices are used to anchor stitches into bone.
After surgery, you will stay in the recovery room for 1 to 2 hours before being discharged home. Nurses will monitor your responsiveness and provide pain medication, if needed. You will need someone to drive you home and stay with you for at least the first night.
Although recovery from arthroscopy is often faster than recovery from open surgery, it may still take weeks for your shoulder joint to completely recover.
You can expect some pain and discomfort for at least a week after surgery. If you have had a more extensive surgery, however, it may take several weeks before your pain subsides. Ice will help relieve pain and swelling. Your doctor may prescribe pain medicine, if needed.
Although it does not affect how your shoulder heals, lying flat may pull on your shoulder and cause discomfort. Some patients are more comfortable sleeping in a reclining chair or propped up in bed during the first days after surgery.
A few days after surgery, you should be able to replace your large bandage with simple Band-Aids. You may shower once your wounds are no longer draining, but try not to soak or scrub your incisions.
You will most likely need a sling or special immobilizer to protect your shoulder. Your surgeon will discuss with you how long the sling will be needed.
Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting you back to your daily activities. An exercise program will help you regain shoulder strength and motion. Your surgeon will develop a rehabilitation plan based on the surgical procedures you required.
If you have had a more complicated surgical repair, your surgeon may recommend a physical therapist to supervise your exercise program.
It is important that you make a strong effort at rehabilitation in order for your surgery to succeed.