Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery


Your shoulders are complex physical features that enable you to execute basic but essential tasks such as lifting, bending, and stretching your arms. Unhealthy, damaged, or weakened shoulders increase your risk of experiencing significant and potentially life-limiting disabilities.

Many shoulder injuries and ailments can be corrected or improved through a procedure known as arthroscopic shoulder surgery.


Your shoulders are ball-and-socket joints connecting your upper arm bone (humerus) with the shoulder blade (scapula).

Other key shoulder components include the following:

  • Rotator Cuff – A collection of tissues called tendons, which help keep the upper arm bone and shoulder blade connected and firmly in place.
  • Bursa – Bursae are liquid-filled sacs located between the rotator cuff and the top of your shoulder. The fluid inside them enables the rotator cuff to move more easily.
  • Shoulder Capsule – This is made of soft tissues known as ligaments that keep the shoulder joint in place. Located directly beneath the shoulder capsule is a membrane called the synovium, which produces fluid designed to protect the shoulder joint and enhance its movement.
  • Labrum – The labrum is a thick collection of soft tissues called cartilage, covering the shoulder’s socket, that provides protection and promotes smooth and effective motion.

Conditions Shoulder Arthroscopy Is Used to Treat

Damage to any of the structures mentioned above might result from events including:

  • Acute injuries like falls or automobile accidents.
  • Gradual age-related wear and tear.
  • Chronic deterioration from full-contact sports or physically demanding jobs.
  • Systemic illnesses like arthritis.

Shoulder arthroscopy is often used to repair partially torn or overstretched rotator cuffs, fix shoulder dislocations, remove or repair a damaged labrum, and extract or resection loose or inflamed cartilage, in addition to ligament and tendon repair.

Important Considerations

Before recommending you for arthroscopic shoulder surgery, your doctor will consider several key factors, such as your age, general health, level of physical fitness, the location and severity of the injury in question, and the presence of any other arm or shoulder injuries.

When Is Shoulder Arthroscopy Recommended?

Typically doctors recommend arthroscopic shoulder surgery if you have tried less aggressive therapies like rest or the RICE (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.) protocol without satisfactory results, or if your injury produces moderate to severe pain, stiffness, or mobility limitations.

Why Surgeons Favor Shoulder Arthroscopy Over Other Techniques

Arthroscopy is less invasive, offers fewer risks and complications, and recipients typically recover faster than individuals undergoing open surgical undertakings.


Preparation is an important part of the surgical process.

During this initial phase, doctors will use a complete medical examination to determine whether you are a suitable candidate for surgery. They will carefully document any concurrent illnesses or injuries and review the over-the-counter and prescription medications you regularly use. Any of these factors could interfere with the process or slow recovery times.

You might be required to stop using certain medications in the days leading up to surgery. Doctors may restrict your diet or prohibit you from eating or drinking in the hours before the procedure.

The Procedure

Before starting the procedure, your surgical team will place you in the necessary position.

Orthopedic specialists perform arthroscopic shoulder surgery with patients in either a “beach chair” or lateral decubitus position. With the “beach chair,” you’re sitting in a somewhat reclining position. Lateral decubitus has patients lying on their sides.

Once you are in the proper position, surgical team members shave skin hair as needed, and apply antiseptic solutions around the shoulder’s skin to prevent post-surgical infections. Surgeons will likely insert your shoulder into a movement-restricting device to prevent shifting during the procedure.

Surgeons begin the actual surgical intervention by making small incisions in your shoulder. Arthroscopy uses a surgical tool known as an arthroscope, which is a tiny camera-equipped tool capable of repairing and removing damaged tissue while feeding real-time photos to the surgeon. Once the issue is detected, they make the needed corrections, remove the arthroscope, close the incision site, and properly bandage or stitch the area.

In most cases, surgeons complete arthroscopic shoulder surgery within an hour. It is usually performed outpatient, meaning you will likely return home the day the operation is executed.

Following the procedure, you will spend a couple of hours in recovery, enabling the anesthetic medication you were given before surgery time to dissipate. You should arrange for some type of transportation home.

How Common Is Shoulder Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is the second most common type of arthroscopic surgery, following procedures used on the knee.

The Recovery Process

Specific recovery times vary depending on your age, health, in addition to the injury’s location and severity. Everyone heals at their own pace.

Your recovery time could take several weeks to two or three months to heal. Pain and swelling are common post-surgical side effects that gradually decrease.

You might find relief through the application of ice or pain-relieving medications. Your surgeon may recommend a sling or other movement-limiting device.

You should plan for a course of physical therapy. This treatment is a series of exercises designed and coordinated by your surgeon and physical therapist. Physical therapy helps your shoulder regain the strength and mobility it may have lost while injured.

It’s hard to determine when shoulder arthroscopy patients can return to the activities they did before getting injured. This often hinges on the injury’s severity, surgical complexities, the patient’s age, and health, in addition to how physically active they are and how physically demanding their leisure or professional pursuits are.

Above all, don’t rush the recovery process. Doing so can and often does result in re-injury, requiring more aggressive treatments and longer recovery times.

Potential Risks or Complications

Complications are very uncommon when performed by an experienced surgical team in a licensed medical facility boasting modern amenities.

Shoulder arthroscopy, like all surgical undertakings, does pose the potential for risks such as bleeding, the development of blood clots, damage to surrounding blood vessels, nerves, and other physical structures, swelling, and infections.

Following the procedure, consult with your doctor if you experience symptoms including:

  • An elevated body temperature.
  • Redness or swelling around the incision site.
  • Discomfort that does not respond to pain medications or other pain-alleviating techniques.
  • Tingling or numbness in the shoulder.
  • Discoloration on the shoulder.
  • Discharge of fluid from the wound.

These are only a few common potential red flag symptoms potentially indicating possible complications. Any unusual occurrence should be immediately reported to your doctor.

Next Steps

If you have shoulder pain and want to see if shoulder arthroscopy is an option, please consult Dr. Peter Howard. Contact us!