by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Fiberoptic Joint Examination)

Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


Arthroscopy is a surgery to examine a joint. It is most often done on large joints like the knee or shoulder. Areas of the joint may also be repaired.

Arthroscopy of the Right Knee
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Reasons for Procedure

Arthroscopy may be done to:

  • Diagnose an injury or disease
  • Remove damaged bone or cartilage
  • Repair tendons or ligaments

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare. All procedures have some risk. Your doctor will talk about possible problems, like:

  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Swelling or bleeding
  • Damage to blood vessels, nerves, or other tissue
  • The need to have another surgery

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Pre-existing heart or lung condition
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Recent or chronic illness
  • Diabetes
  • Bleeding disorders

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Other treatment will be tried before arthroscopy. The doctor will review images from x-rays or MRI. To prepare for surgery:

  • Arrange for a ride to and from the care center.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before.
  • The care team may ask you to use a special soap the morning of.


The type of anesthesia will depend on the joint. The care team will talk to you about one of the following:

  • General anesthesia —you will be asleep during the procedure
  • Local anesthesia—the area will be numbed
  • Spinal anesthetic —the lower body will be numbed, you will be awake

Description of the Procedure

Small cuts will be made in the skin along the joint. A long thin tool will be inserted through the cuts. The tool has a scope with a small camera. The doctor will be able to the inner joint area on a screen in the room. The scope will be moved to examine the entire joint and look for problems. Other small tools may be passed through the cuts to remove or repair damaged tissue. Work that can be done include:

  • Damaged cartilage in the knee may be cut and removed.
  • Ligaments that are pressing on nearby nerves may be released or loosened.
  • Damaged ligaments may be repaired.

The tools will be removed. The skin may be closed with stitches or clips. The incisions will be covered with a dressing. The fluid or tissue that was removed may be sent to a lab for exam.

How Long Will It Take?

Usually less than 1 hour. It may take longer if repairs are being done.

Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after can be managed with medicine.

Post-procedure Care

It may take 4 to 6 weeks for the joint to fully recover if a repair was done. Exercises and physical therapy may be suggested.

Athletes often return to athletic competition within a few weeks.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Joint pain, fatigue, stiffness, rash, or other new symptoms
  • Swelling, tingling, pain, or numbness in your toes that is not relieved by elevating your knee above heart level for 1 hour

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


Arthritis Foundation 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 


Arthritis Society 

When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation 


Arthroscopy. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2020.

Katz JN, Brownlee SA, Jones MH. The role of arthroscopy in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Best Pract Res Clin Rheum. 2014;28:143-156.

Pitta M, Davis W 3rd, Argintar EH. Arthroscopic management of osteoarthritis. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2016;24(2):74-82.

Thorlund JB, Juhl CB, Roos EM, Lohmander LS. Arthroscopic knee surgery for degenerative knee: systematic review and meta-analysis of benefits and harms. BMJ 2015;350:h2747.

What is arthroscopic surgery? Arthroscopy Association of North America website. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2020.

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