Shoulder Arthroscopy

Shoulder arthroscopy is a type of surgery to examine or repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and their tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in the shoulder joint and help the shoulder move in different directions. The tendons in the rotator cuff can tear when they are overused or injured.

During the procedure, the surgeon:
  • Inserts the arthroscope into your shoulder through a small incision. The scope is connected to a video monitor in the operating room.
  • Inspects all the tissues of your shoulder joint and the area above the joint. These tissues include the cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Repairs any damaged tissues. To do this, your surgeon makes 1 to 3 more small incisions and inserts other instruments through them. A tear in a muscle, tendon, or cartilage is fixed. Any damaged tissue is removed.
Your surgeon may do one or more procedures during your operation, for example:
  • Rotator cuff repair 
  • Surgery for impegement syndrome
  • Surgery for shoulder instability

At the end of the surgery, the incisions will be closed with stitches and covered with a dressing (bandage). Most surgeons take pictures from the video monitor during the procedure to show you what they found and the repairs that were made.

Your surgeon may need to do open surgery if there is a lot of damage. Open surgery means you will have a large incision so that the surgeon can get directly to your bones and tissues.

Arthroscopy often results in less pain and stiffness, fewer complications, a shorter (if any) hospital stay, and faster recovery than open surgery.

Risks of anesthesia and surgery in general are:
  • Allergic reactions to medicines
  • Breathing problems
  • Bleeding, blood clots, infection
Risks of shoulder arthroscopy are:
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Failure of the surgery to relieve symptoms
  • The repair fails to heal
  • Weakness of the shoulder
  • Injury to a blood vessel or nerve

Recovery can take 1 to 6 months. You will probably have to wear a sling for the first week. If you had a lot of repair done, you may have to wear the sling longer.

You may take medicine to control your pain.

When you can return to work or play sports will depend on what your surgery involved. It can range from 1 week to several months.

Physical therapy may help you regain motion and strength in your shoulder. The length of therapy will depend on what was done during your surgery.