This factsheet is for people who are having a shoulder arthroscopy, or who would like information about it.
Shoulder arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery used to look inside and treat damage to the shoulder caused by some types of injury, arthritis and certain other conditions.
You will meet our surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.
About shoulder arthroscopy
Shoulder arthroscopy is performed through small cuts in your skin, using a special telescope (arthroscope) attached to a video camera. Compared with open surgery, arthroscopy has a faster recovery time.
Our doctor may suggest you have a shoulder arthroscopy to repair damage to your shoulder caused by injury or certain conditions affecting your shoulder. Shoulder arthroscopy is considered effective for some shoulder problems, including:
- injury to the shoulder joint
- damage to the ligaments or tendons
- cartilage problems
- wear and tear of the joint
What are the alternatives?
Not everyone who has shoulder problems needs to have an arthroscopy. Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose your shoulder problem using physical examination and other tests such as an X-ray or an MRI scan.
Depending on what has caused the damage, your shoulder problem may improve on its own without treatment or with self-help measures, such as following an exercise programme to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder. Other treatments for shoulder problems may include physiotherapy and medicines. Talk to our doctor about what treatment options are available for you.
Preparing for a shoulder arthroscopy
Our orthopaedic surgeon (a doctor who specialises in bone surgery) will explain how to prepare for your procedure.
The operation is usually done as a day case, which means you won’t have to stay in hospital overnight.
The operation may be done under general anaesthesia, to give you pain relief after the operation. General anaesthesia means you will be asleep during the operation.
You will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand.
What happens during a shoulder arthroscopy
A shoulder arthroscopy often takes less than an hour, depending on how much work our surgeon needs to do inside your shoulder joint. Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your surgeon will make small cuts in the skin around your shoulder joint. He or she will pump sterile fluid into your joint to help produce a clearer picture and then insert the arthroscope.
Our surgeon will examine your shoulder joint by looking at images sent by the arthroscope to a monitor. If necessary, he or she can insert surgical instruments to repair damage or remove material that interferes with movement and causes pain in your shoulder.
Afterwards, your surgeon will drain the fluid and close the cuts with stitches or adhesive strips. He or she will then wrap a dressing and a bandage around your shoulder.
What to expect afterwards
You may need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. It may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your shoulder area. Take special care not to bump or knock the area.
You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready. You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours.
Your nurse will give you some advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.
The amount of time your dissolvable stitches will take to disappear depends on the type of stitches you have. However, for this procedure, they should usually disappear in about six weeks.
Recovering from shoulder arthroscopy
It usually takes several weeks to make a full recovery from shoulder arthroscopy, but this varies between individuals, so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice.
You may need to keep your arm in a sling for several weeks after the operation. Your shoulder joint is likely to feel sore and swollen for at least a week. Try to rest your arm and apply a cold compress such as ice or a bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a towel, to help reduce swelling and bruising. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage your skin.
Your recovery time will depend on what, if any, treatment our surgeon performs on your shoulder joint. This may vary from a few days to several weeks depending on the severity of your shoulder problem and your level of fitness.