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Shoulder Arthroscopy

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Why would I need shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

This type of surgery can be used to help patients with unexplained shoulder pain, swelling or stiffness, or patients who have shoulder problems caused by injury or conditions such as osteoarthritis.

It can be used to both diagnose the cause of shoulder discomfort and treat the cause at the same time. For example, if your shoulder pain is caused by loose cartilage or bone or by a sports injury, your surgeon can diagnose the cause and treat the problem by removing loose cartilage or bone at the same time.

What symptoms does shoulder arthroscopy surgery address?

If you have persistent pain, swelling or stiffness in your shoulder, a shoulder arthroscopy procedure can help to relieve this pain by treating the cause. Often, people requiring shoulder arthroscopy surgery have persistent pain, swelling or stiffness in their shoulder joint that has not responded to conservative/non-surgical treatment (rest, analgesia, injections or physiotherapy), and doctors have been unable to find the cause using other means such as scans.

When should you speak to your specialist about shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

If you’ve injured your shoulder for example playing sports, torn your shoulder muscles in an accident, or you have persistent pain, discomfort, swelling or stiffness in your shoulder, speak to your specialist. They may suggest a combination of tests and treatments, including shoulder arthroscopy surgery.

How is shoulder arthroscopy surgery performed?

Shoulder arthroscopy surgery is a type of keyhole surgery. Your surgeon will make a small surgical cut in your shoulder, and will place a long, thin surgical instrument called an arthroscope into your shoulder joint.

An arthroscope has a small camera attached to the end the end that allows your surgeon to get a good view of the inside of your shoulder. Sometimes it may be necessary for your surgeon to use a sterile liquid inside your shoulder to expand it in order to get a better view.

If you require treatment during your procedure, your surgeon will make one or two further small surgical cuts to insert further surgical instruments to flush out the joint, remove unwanted tissue or repair damaged tissue. A shoulder arthroscopy procedure takes between 30 minutes and two hours and is performed under a general anaesthetic. You will wake with your shoulder bandaged and with stitches in your surgical cuts.

What is the recovery like for shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

Your recovery from shoulder arthroscopy surgery will depend on multiple factors, including your age, fitness level and the nature of your procedure.

Arthroscopy is very often performed as a day case with the patient under general anaesthetic, but some patients require an overnight stay in hospital. Your nursing team will give you advice on how to best look after your shoulder, how to sleep without disturbing your shoulder joint and when to remove your dressings. You may also need to wear a sling after your surgery to keep your shoulder rested and in the best position for recovery.

Most patients require one to two weeks off work and resting from their normal activities after a shoulder arthroscopy procedure. Your doctor will arrange for your stitches to be removed after around ten to 12 days if you don’t have dissolvable stitches. You may also require physiotherapy afterwards, depending on your surgery.

Are there any risks/complications associated with shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

As with any medical procedure, it’s possible for risks or complications to arise. Speaking with your specialist or surgeon beforehand will help you avoid any adverse reactions. Shoulder arthroscopy surgery has a relatively low risk of serious complications, but the following risks and complications can occur in a small number of cases:

  • An infection in the surgical wound
  • Bleeding inside the shoulder joint
  • A blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle or tendon re-tear
  • Recurrence of shoulder instability

How can I prepare for shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

Prior to shoulder arthroscopy surgery, your surgeon will discuss with you how best to prepare for surgery, as each patient is different.

Common preparations for shoulder arthroscopy surgery include:

  • Routine blood tests, x rays or scans as requested by your surgeon
  • Taking steps to stop smoking if you smoke
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight
  • Remaining active and doing regular exercise

Are there alternatives for shoulder arthroscopy surgery?

Some shoulder problems can be diagnosed using x rays, ultrasounds and MRI scans. If your shoulder pain or damage isn’t causing you too much trouble, you may be able to manage it using painkillers, ice treatments and physiotherapy.

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