A procedure in which a thin instrument equipped with a light source and a video camera is inserted through a small incision to allow doctors to examine the inside of joints. Arthroscopy is most commonly performed on the knee, shoulder, or ankle, but may sometimes be used on the hip, elbow, or wrist.

The doctor can use an arthroscope to examine joint surfaces, cartilage (the tissue that cushions the ends of joints) and ligaments (the tissue that connects bones to each other). Arthroscopy allows the doctor not only to see inside joints but also, in some cases, to perform surgery. Arthroscopic procedures have been used to evaluate and treat many conditions, such as torn cartilage, reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee, and trimming damaged cartilage. Compared with open surgery, arthroscopic surgery often is less painful, costs less, allows for a speedier recovery, and can be performed on an outpatient basis, without the need for an overnight hospital stay.

Recent research indicates that arthroscopic surgery is not the best treatment for degenerative knee arthritis and tears in the meniscus, the cartilage cushioning the knee. In a study reported in British Medical Journal in May 2017, researchers analyzed data from 13 well-designed randomized trials and 12 observational studies of arthroscopic surgery and concluded that it works no better than exercise therapy for these conditions.

Want to learn more about joint surgery? Read “Long-Term Exercise After Knee or Hip Replacement,” “How Long Do Hip and Knee Replacements Last?” and “Recovering From Hip Replacement Surgery.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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