Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to diagnose and repair various joints, including your shoulders.

During shoulder arthroscopy, a surgeon will make small incisions and use long, thin instruments to see in and around your shoulder joint and, if needed, make repairs.

It’s performed in an operating room but it’s less invasive than a traditional open surgery. In fact, arthroscopic shoulder surgery is common and complications are rare.

Let’s take a look at when arthroscopic shoulder surgery might be recommended and what you can expect from start to finish.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery involves the use of an arthroscope, which is a thin tube containing a light and a camera. A surgeon uses this to see within your shoulder joint.

This type of surgery can be used to diagnose various shoulder injuries or health conditions. Using other tools, surgeons can also make certain types of repairs during the procedure. These include:

SLAP tear

Your shoulder has a piece of cartilage called a labrum. This cartilage can be torn due to aging or injury. Frequently, the tear affects the superior labrum anterior and posterior (SLAP). The SLAP refers to both the front and back of the labrum’s top area.

Shoulder instability

The shoulder joint can develop instability if some of the joint capsule, muscles, or ligaments have been damaged, or if the bones have fractured around the joint.

Rotator cuff tear

Your rotator cuff is made up of four different tendons that work together to hold your upper arm to your shoulder in the proper alignment. Rotator cuff tears often occur as a result of overuse but can also occur due to an injury.

Shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement is a painful condition that happens when different parts of your shoulder rub together and become compressed. It’s often a constant minor pain that becomes much more severe when your shoulder approaches maximum rotation.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is common. It’s estimated that 1.77 million arthroscopic surgeries are performed in the United States every year.

It’s generally considered both safe and effective, especially compared with traditional open surgeries.

The extent of your injury, your overall health, and your adherence to a rehabilitation plan after the surgery could all affect your long-term results.

Complications are rare, but all surgeries do have some level of risk. Some of the potential complications you might experience after an arthroscopic shoulder surgery include:

One retrospective study published in 2022 suggests that about 1 in 26 people who have arthroscopic shoulder surgery will need to undergo the operation again within a year.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the surgery itself.

Before the procedure

A healthcare professional will ask you about your medical history. Be sure to share any health issues you might have.

Also share what medications you’re currently taking. This may include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, or herbs. You may be asked to stop taking some or all of these before your surgery.

The surgeon will provide information about when to arrive and when to stop consuming food and liquids. This may depend on what type of anesthesia will be used.

During the procedure

  1. First, a healthcare professional will give you anesthesia. Depending on your health and your injury, this may include a local anesthetic, general anesthesia, or both.
  2. The surgeon will make an incision in your shoulder about 1 inch long. They will insert the arthroscope into the incision so they can see inside your shoulder joint.
  3. If they need to make repairs, the surgeon may need to make additional small incisions to get their surgical tools inside your shoulder.

After the procedure

A healthcare professional will take you to a recovery room to be monitored until you’ve woken up from the anesthesia. You’ll be provided with pain medication.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is usually an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home that day. You will not be able to drive, though. You may want to see if a friend or family member can help you get home.

A doctor may prescribe pain medication, and you’ll be given instructions on how to care for your shoulder as the incisions heal.

Most people can expect to get back to their usual activities, like work and household chores, within a few days. This will probably come with some lifting or movement restrictions.

You may need to follow a specific rehabilitation routine or undergo physical therapy for weeks or months before your shoulder is fully recovered.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is often covered by private insurance or government healthcare, but this can vary between providers, plans, and jurisdictions.

The procedure may be covered only if you’ve tried nonsurgical treatments that haven’t been effective. These could include physical therapy or injections.

Medicare states that, depending on the procedure, the total cost of arthroscopic shoulder surgery ranges from about $1,800 to $7,500. If you’re covered, you can expect to pay about $370 to $1,500 of this cost.

Check with your provider before scheduling your surgery to find out what costs you can expect to be responsible for.

In most cases, arthroscopic shoulder surgery is recommended only after other nonsurgical treatments have been exhausted. Nonsurgical treatments that may help to heal your shoulder include:

You may still have other questions about arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Let’s take a look at some common ones.

Is shoulder arthroscopy the same as rotator cuff repair?

Rotator cuff repair is one type of surgery that can be done arthroscopically. Yet other arthroscopic shoulder surgeries don’t involve your rotator cuff. Plus, if your rotator cuff is very badly damaged, you may need open surgery to repair it.

How long does arthroscopic shoulder surgery take?

The duration of the surgery will depend on the extent of your injuries. Arthroscopic shoulder surgery usually takes under 1 hour.

How long does it take to recover from arthroscopic shoulder surgery?

The incisions from the surgery will typically heal in a few days to a week, and you’ll be able to resume many usual activities within that same time period.

Full recovery could take several months and may require physical therapy. This will depend on the extent of your injuries.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can repair many types of damage to your shoulder using only small incisions.

The recovery from arthroscopic shoulder surgery is usually faster and easier than recovery from open surgery.

Not all shoulder injuries can be treated arthroscopically. Check with your doctor to find out whether this might be an effective treatment for you.