Shoulder Arthroscopy: What to Expect

September 23rd, 2022

Shoulder pain can be debilitating and make everyday tasks difficult to complete. Whether you’ve experienced a direct injury or woke up one day with shoulder pain, there are many treatment options available. One common minimally invasive repair is a shoulder arthroscopy. To understand what an arthroscopy does and why it’s used, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the shoulder’s anatomy. 

Shoulder anatomy 

The shoulder is one of the largest joints in the body and serves many functions. It’s essentially a ball and socket. It begins with the upper arm bone (humerus) fitting into the shoulder blade (scapula). This joint is what allows you to raise and rotate your arm. Along with the joint is the collarbone (clavicle) that rests on top of the joint.

Surrounding this joint are muscles and tendons. The three major muscles in the shoulder are the trapezius, deltoid, and pectoralis major. These muscles aid in the movement and flexibility of the arm and shoulder. The rotator cuff is made of 4 smaller muscles and tendons that help move the shoulder in different directions.

Injuries that can be treated with an arthroscopy

Rotator cuff repair: Rotator cuff injuries are among the most common injuries in the United States. They can occur through blunt force or overuse, like repetitive motions during sports or performing a job function. Arthroscopy to repair a torn rotator cuff is a common treatment choice. During the arthroscopy, your surgeon will reattach the tendon to the bone, allowing the injury to heal correctly. Then, through physical therapy, the area will regain strength, and you’ll soon have full mobility back and be pain free.

Shoulder instability: It’s not uncommon to have an unstable shoulder, especially with age or intense sports. A shoulder dislocation or repetitive strain are reasons your shoulder might become unstable. A shoulder arthroscopy is one way to fix this issue. During a shoulder arthroscopy, your surgeon will perform a Bankart repair. During this procedure, your surgeon will reattach and tighten the labrum, giving your shoulder more support and strength. 

Damaged cartilage: Your shoulder joint is covered with cartilage to provide smooth movement as the bones glide past each other. However, during an injury like a dislocation or through years of overuse, the cartilage can wear down, causing friction and pain with movement. Through an arthroscopy, your surgeon can repair the damaged cartilage or replace it. This minimally invasive procedure will bring back pain-free movement to your shoulder and arm. 

What is an arthroscopy? 

Now that you understand the shoulder anatomy and what types of injuries might be treated with an arthroscopy, you're better equipped to understand what an arthroscopy is and why it’s such a standard procedure. 

An arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure to diagnose and treat injuries inside the joint. While an arthroscopy can be performed in any joint, it’s commonly done on the shoulder, knee, hip, or wrist. This surgical procedure is usually done in an outpatient setting, meaning you’ll likely return home to recover the same day. 

During an arthroscopy, your surgeon will make a small incision in the shoulder, usually less than a centimeter long. Then, your surgeon will insert a light and a small camera, known as an arthroscope, into the incision. This camera will display live video onto a monitor so the surgical team can have a clear view of the area they will be operating on. Rather than making a large incision and opening up the whole area, the camera allows this procedure to remain minimally invasive. 

At this point, your surgeon will diagnose the injury and begin operating. To operate on the area, your surgeon will insert small surgical tools into other separate small incisions. Then, using the camera to guide, your surgeon will repair the injury, remove the tools, and close the small incision. 

Arthroscopy recovery

Since an arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure, recovery is much faster and easier than it is with traditional open surgery. Most arthroscopies are performed as an outpatient procedure, so you’ll likely spend a few hours in the recovery room waking up from the anesthesia and then be discharged to recover at home. 

Once you return home, you’ll be able to use prescribed medications as directed and ice to reduce swelling. In the following days, you’ll begin to rehab the joint with the exercises recommended by your doctor and, in some cases, your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist to ensure proper recovery.

Your recovery time is based on how significant your injury was and how often you complete the suggested exercises. Most arthroscopies are fully healed within eight to twelve weeks. By this time, you should be able to perform daily movements and moderate exercise with little to no pain. 

Signs you should see a doctor when dealing with shoulder pain

It might seem easier to just “tough it out” when it comes to shoulder pain rather than taking the time to get it addressed. Doing this might be easier initially, but you are likely causing more damage, resulting in a longer recovery once you do elect to treat your pain. 

Some signs you should have your shoulder injury examined by an orthopedic specialist are:

- Shoulder pain for over five days 

- Limited range of movement 

- Stiffness

- Popping or cracking noises with movement

- Feeling like your shoulder might pop out of place 


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you likely have some type of shoulder injury that needs repair. For a proper diagnosis, visit Rothman Orthopaedics by making an appointment online or calling 1-800-321-9999. An orthopedic specialist at Rothman is ready to give you the proper care to treat your shoulder injury and get you back to life without discomfort.    


1 of 1
You are using an unsupported version of Internet Explorer. To ensure security, performance, and full functionality, please upgrade to an up-to-date browser.