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Shoulder Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is commonly used for treatment of conditions of the shoulder including subacromial impingement, acromioclavicular osteoarthritis, rotator cuff tears, frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis), chronic tendonitis, removal of loose bodies and partial tears of the long biceps tendon, SLAP lesions and shoulder instability. Among the most common indications for which arthroscopic shoulder surgery is utilized include subacromial decompression, Bankart’s lesion repair and rotator cuff repair. All these procedures were done by opening the joint through big incisions before the advent of arthroscopy. Today arthroscopic surgical procedures have become the gold standard in the treatment of these conditions.

Shoulder arthroscopy is most commonly performed using regional nerve blocks, which numb your shoulder and arm. This numbing medicine is injected in the base of your neck or high on your shoulder. This is where the nerves that control feeling in your shoulder and arm are located. In addition to its use as an anesthetic during surgery, a nerve block will help control pain for a few hours after the surgery is completed. Many surgeons combine nerve blocks with sedation or a light general anesthetic because patients can become uncomfortable staying in one position for the length of time needed to complete the surgery.

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 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.

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. Most arthroscopic procedures take less than an hour; however, the length of your surgery will depend on what your surgeon finds and what repairs are required.

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.