What is shoulder arthroscopy?

Shoulder arthroscopy is surgery that uses a camera called an arthroscope to examine or repair the tissues inside or around your shoulder joint. It is often called “key hole” surgery. The arthroscope is inserted through a small incision (cut) in your skin. The arthroscopic camera allows fantastic vision around your shoulder joint, allowing a comprehensive assessment the structures and damage in your shoulder.

A number of procedures can be performed using the arthroscopic “key hole” technique.

Shoulder arthroscopy - Anatomy

Who should have a shoulder arthroscopy?

Shoulder arthroscopy can be performed to treat these problems:

Shoulder arthroscopy - rotator cuff tear

What happens during a shoulder arthroscopy?

The Anaesthetic

Most people receive general anesthesia before shoulder arthroscopy surgery. This means you will be asleep during the operation. Your arm and shoulder area may also be numbed so that you do not feel any pain in this area.

The Surgery

  • The arthroscope is inserted into your shoulder through a small 1cm incision which is connected to a video monitor in the operating room.
  • The tissues of your shoulder joint are inspected including the cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments.
  • The damage tissue is repaired
  • To do this, 1 to 3 more small incisions are made so that other instruments can be used to perform the operation.

At the end of the surgery your incisions will be closed with stitches and covered with a dressing.

Photos are taken during the procedure to show you what was found and what repairs were made.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

You will probably have to wear a sling for at least the first week. If you had a lot of rotator cuff repair or shoulder stabilisation done, you may have to wear the sling for 6 weeks.

Recovery can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months depending on what pathology was found during the arthroscopy and what repair was performed.

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.

For many procedures, especially if a rotator cuff repair is performed, physiotherapy may help you regain motion and strength in your shoulder. The length of treatment will depend on the repair that was done.


Complications are uncommon are shoulder arthroscopy, but like every surgical procedures, there are risks and complications involved.

The Risks for any anesthesia include:

  • Allergic reactions to medicines
  • Breathing problems
  • Stroke and Cardiac problems

The risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis

Risks of shoulder arthroscopy are:

  • Injury to a blood vessel or nerve
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Failure of the surgery to relieve symptoms
  • Failure of the repair to heal
  • Weakness of the shoulder

Further Reading and References