What is Arthroscopy – Who Might Need it and Why?

Nov 14, 2023 | Articles, Blog

Our joints are complex structures subject to continuous wear and tear and prone to injury. When damage occurs, arthroscopy offers a minimally invasive remedy. Rather than resorting to open surgery, orthopaedic surgeons now have the option to perform many procedures using just two or three tiny incisions, thanks to a novel device pioneered by a Japanese surgeon in 1919.

Professor Kenji Tajagi used a cystoscope to explore a tuberculous knee joint and later perfected the first working arthroscope. While its principle remains the same, the modern arthroscope has benefited from technological advances. Today’s instrument consists of a rigid, narrow tube containing a fibre optic cable to transmit light to the target area and return magnified images for viewing and recording.

While initially used for exploratory purposes and as a diagnostic tool, another Japanese surgeon named Masaki Watanabe became the first to use an arthroscope to perform surgery when excising a giant cell tumour in 1955. Since then, arthroscopy has been embraced by orthopaedic specialists worldwide as a minimally invasive alternative to conventional open procedures when treating chronic joint pain due to injury or disease.


Some common reasons to perform arthroscopy

While the natural process of ageing often leaves people with swollen and painful joints, amateur and professional athletes, drivers, and construction workers frequently sustain severe joint injuries. Fortunately, in most cases, the development of less invasive procedures performed with an arthroscope has made it possible to avoid major surgery. The following are a few of the conditions commonly treated arthroscopically.


  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most frequent cause of chronic joint pain. It most often affects weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees and feet but may also occur in the hands, neck and lower back. In addition to pain, other osteoarthritis symptoms may include stiffness, tenderness, a grating sensation, reduced mobility, and bone spur formation. When palliative treatments fail, arthroscopic surgery can alleviate the symptoms and restore mobility while limiting the risk of excessive blood loss and infections and speeding recovery times.


  • Torn meniscus: This type of injury often occurs when playing sports. A severe twisting action can tear the c-shaped pad of cartilage that serves as the knee’s shock absorber. The injured often experience a popping sensation at the time. A locked feeling, difficulty in straightening, pain, swelling and stiffness are typical symptoms of a meniscus tear, and arthroscopic intervention is usually the preferred solution.


  • Torn rotator cuff: The term refers to a group of muscles and tendons that stabilise the joint between the shoulder and humerus while enabling rotation. A direct impact, a fall or overexertion can cause damage, leading to pain, weakness and limited movement. Though painkillers and physiotherapy may be effective, arthroscopy is usually necessary in severe cases.


  • Recurrent dislocations: Dislocated shoulders occur frequently in contact sports and can often be treated on the spot. However, a surgeon often reaches for an arthroscope when they tend to recur due to complications such as muscle or tendon damage.


A leading arthroscopy surgeon in Pretoria

If you should develop any of the above conditions and require surgery, ask your GP to refer you to Dr Jan de Vos. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more details about this leading orthopaedic specialist at the Wilgers Life Clinic in Pretoria.