Few advances in surgical techniques have been as beneficial as the development of arthroscopic surgery. An arthroscopic procedure greatly reduces the "invasiveness" of surgery; it allows a surgeon to make only a few small incisions instead of one large incision - as is common with open procedures. A reduction in surgical invasiveness is helpful for many reasons, one of which is the improvement in recovery time after surgery.
A primary tool of this surgery is the arthroscope, a small fiber-optic viewing instrument, which projects images onto a monitor, allowing the surgeon to look deep inside the joint. The arthroscope can be placed and positioned within the joint to give detailed views of internal structures, providing physicians with an excellent tool to examine, diagnosis and treat patients. Arthroscopic surgical procedures use specially designed instruments that are inserted through other accessory incisions; the arthroscope allows the physician to closely monitor the procedure as they treat the patient.
During an arthroscopic procedure, the surgeon inserts the arthroscope through a tiny incision (about 1/4 of an inch) into the joint. Usually the joint is made to slightly distend, or expand through the introduction of fluid that also clears away any blood. If the procedure calls for treatment, other incisions, called portals, are then made to allow the surgical tools to enter the joint. These incisions result in very small scars, which in many cases are unnoticeable after time.
The arthroscope was first used as a diagnostic tool; the name literally translates "to look into a joint," but has since greatly developed in use. With advances in instrumentation and surgical techniques, the arthroscope has become a standard surgical tool as well, used to treat all major joints in the body. The instrument is a small size, only 3 or 4 mm in diameter, yet it incorporates a fiber-optic camera, a light source, a lens and a flexible mounting system.