Why You Might Need Shoulder Arthroscopy

Nov 5, 2021 | Articles, Blog

Shoulder Arthroscopy and Why You Might Need It

Unlike many other branches of medicine, advances in orthopaedic surgery have been relatively slow. Most of the breakthroughs in this field occurred only during the last century and in more recent years. Among the most significant of these were the invention and gradual perfection of the arthroscope. The instrument acts like a thin, flexible telescope, enabling a surgeon to inspect a joint’s internal structure in real time. It is now used routinely to perform a procedure known as shoulder arthroscopy.

The arthroscope consists of a narrow tube containing a fibre optic cable that conveys light from an LED to illuminate the joint’s interior. The cable also returns a magnified image to a miniature video camera, which relays a full-colour display to a monitor screen where the surgical team can view the details. An X-ray can only display an image of radiopaque materials, such as bone, cartilage, and foreign bodies. By contrast, the instrument provides detailed views of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons when performing shoulder arthroscopy.

Initially, the instrument was used only as a diagnostic tool, providing added information previously not available from external examinations and X-rays. Surgeons then used the findings of an arthroscopic study to determine the extent of any physical damage or disease process and decide what further action would be most appropriate. However, in 1955, a Japanese surgeon named Dr Masaki Watanabe used an arthroscope to perform a surgical procedure on the knee to remove a giant cell tumour. Later, his innovative action also led to numerous surgical applications for hip and shoulder arthroscopy.

Although Watanabe’s concept was bold, it was also logical. While making one small incision to insert the scope and view the joint’s interior, why not make a couple more to insert the instruments and complete the necessary surgery in a single session? Although still used for diagnostic purposes, this minimally invasive approach to joint surgery is now favoured by many orthopaedic specialists worldwide. Compared to conventional open procedures, arthroscopic surgeries carry a lower risk of excess blood loss and infection and need less recovery time. So, why might you require shoulder arthroscopy?

Since the ’70s, the procedure has been the prefered choice of many orthopaedic surgeons for treating soft tissue conditions affecting this joint. These commonly arise from acute injuries or chronic overuse, or might result from ageing and the accompanying long-term wear and tear. Rotator cuff and ligament repairs, excision of bone spurs, and removal of loose cartilage are typical examples of the procedures routinely performed by experienced surgeons skilled in the techniques of shoulder arthroscopy at the Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria.