Though it is a totally modern medical technique, the process known as arthroscopy is actually named from two Greek words. Arthro, which means “joint” and skopein, which means “to look”. This tells us right away that any arthroscopy is looking at a joint in the body. However, it is a bit more technical than that because it is actually a process that allows us to look at the inside of a joint.
Why would that be needed? Think of it as a far more efficient and much less invasive way of examining and diagnosing problems in the hand and wrist. Rather than making large incisions, disrupting and harming soft tissue, and causing the subsequent swelling and pain that surgery demands, the use of arthroscopy is a much more preferable way to visualize and even repair problems.
Why the wrist? Remember that it can be a diagnostic tool as well as a surgical tool. It is something that lets a hand surgeon diagnose and treat something, and so it is a very popular way of exploring problems with the wrist. In fact, the wrist is the third most commonly treated area (after shoulders and knees) with arthroscopy.
What Arthroscopy Provides
The patient who has injured their wrist or who is encountering a wrist problem that is difficult to diagnose with traditional exams can have the bone, ligaments, and cartilage safely and easily assessed in a comprehensive way with arthroscopy. It is a tiny device that features a thread-like fiber optic tube equipped with a small camera at the end. Tiny incisions are made in the wrist area, and the device is then inserted safely into the appropriate region. The camera then sends images back to a monitor for the surgeon to assess.
The arthroscopic equipment also allows medical tools to be fixed to the camera end of the device, and this can allow on the spot treatment of suspected problems using forceps, knives, shavers, and probes (AAOS.org, 2015).
Generally, hand surgeons turn to the arthroscopy to deal with bone fractures that require reduction due to scarring or problematic bone growth, to explore the integrity of certain areas of cartilage in the wrist (known as TFCC), and even to remove less problematic issues such as ganglion cysts. The arthroscopy can also help with certain fractures and even to assess the progress of arthritis in the wrist area.
It can be combined with “open” procedures, meaning surgical procedures more invasive, if this allows better visualization of the patients condition. However, it is often far less invasive, and allows recovery to be faster and less difficult. Patients often wear a splint or bandage, depending on their condition, and will have to manage swelling and pain according to their doctors advice.
The good news about wrist arthroscopy is that it is a good alternative to several major wrist problems. When your hand doctor has the experience and skill required, it can provide a very precise and reliable treatment that is often superior to surgery in its outcome and its invasiveness.
AAOS.org. Wrist Arthroscopy. 2015. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00001