Learn more about the benefits of arthroscopic shoulder surgery, as well as possible risks and recovery time.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is a procedure that uses a camera to get a better look inside the joint.

This involves an orthopedic surgeon making small skin incisions to then insert an arthroscope, or small tube with a camera, into the affected shoulder joint. Doing so helps the surgeon gain a magnified visual of the joint so they can provide more precise treatment.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery may be used to treat the following:

  • Superior labrum anterior to posterior (SLAP) tears: Consisting of a ring of cartilage surrounding your shoulder joint socket, a SLAP tear may occur from injuries or dislocations, but it can also develop from natural wear and tear. An arthroscopy is considered the most common nonsurgical treatment option.
  • Shoulder impingement: Shoulder impingement is a common injury that develops when the rotator cuff tendon in your shoulder rubs against nearby tissues or bone. An arthroscopy may accompany another type of procedure called subacromial decompression, which involves surgically widening the area outside of the affected tendon.
  • Rotator cuff tear: Making up an estimated 2 million physician visits per year, rotator cuff tears are considered extremely common shoulder injuries. Arthroscopic surgery can help determine the extent of the tear and also fix the rotator cuff tendon.
  • Recurring shoulder dislocations: As the most commonly dislocated joint in the body, a shoulder dislocation could develop due to contact sports injuries and other types of trauma. While not a first-line treatment, arthroscopic surgery may be considered if shoulder dislocations recur.
  • Labrum tears: Arthroscopic surgery may also help repair torn or damaged labrum cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket.
  • Arthritis diagnosis: While generally not recommended as an arthritis treatment, arthroscopic surgery may possibly help diagnose arthritis that may be affecting the shoulder, such as osteoarthritis, bursitis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

While any joint may be evaluated and treated arthroscopically, this type of surgery is most beneficial for six specific joints in the body. The shoulder is one of them.

Shoulder arthroscopy itself has been performed since the 1970s. Over the years, it has evolved from a diagnostic tool to a tool used to treat shoulder injuries. Minimally invasive techniques also offer a quicker recovery than open surgery.

The biggest benefit is that it can help a surgeon perform a procedure without requiring large incisions. It’s also done on an outpatient basis and has fewer risks or side effects than open surgery.

While you can expect initial pain and discomfort as you recover, side effects will likely not be as significant as open surgery.

Serious risks are uncommon and reportedly occur in 1% of all cases. These risks may include:

You may want to consider this procedure if your shoulder pain lasts for a few weeks despite physical therapy and if it interferes with your daily activities. A doctor may also recommend surgery for cases of acute shoulder injury.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is recommended for people in overall good health. Ideal candidates will have tried nonsurgical methods to improve their shoulder condition but have yet to experience improvements.

Alternative treatments to this surgery depend on the underlying injury or condition but may include:

Before considering arthroscopic shoulder surgery, consider discussing the benefits versus risks of this procedure with a doctor. Below are a few key questions to help you get started.

Is arthroscopic shoulder surgery painful?

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery isn’t as painful as other surgeries. In some cases, you may not need any pain medication as you recover the procedure.

How long does arthroscopic shoulder surgery take?

Most people who have this type of surgery get to go home after several hours. The exact time of the procedure will depend on the extent of the injury and what the surgeon needs to do to correct the damage.

How long should I take off from work after arthroscopic shoulder surgery?

Many people are able to go back to school or work in just a few days. Keep in mind that full recovery may take several months, with pain and discomfort improving gradually.

How many incisions do I need for arthroscopic shoulder surgery?

While some cases only require one incision, others may need to be made depending on the size of the treatment area.

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

Full recovery from the incisions may take several days, and you may need to wait at least several weeks before resuming athletic activities. Your surgeon can provide you with a better idea of your recovery time.

A 2018 study also found that post-operative physical therapy may improve outcomes following arthroscopic surgery.

How soon can I drive after arthroscopic shoulder surgery?

While you may resume most day-to-day activities after a few days of having this surgery, driving may not be feasible for much longer. It’s best to wait until you’re given the all clear by a doctor or physical therapist.

You will need someone to drive you home from the surgery.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery may help treat certain conditions and injuries of the shoulder that don’t otherwise respond to nonsurgical treatments. With minimally invasive techniques and a shorter recovery time, this procedure may be preferable over other types of surgery.

Consider discussing this procedure with your doctor, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a shoulder condition that hasn’t improved with other treatment methods.