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Arthroscopy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Surgery Overview

Arthroscopy is a type of joint surgery in which a thin tube with a light source (called an arthroscope) is inserted into the joint through a small incision (cut) in the skin, allowing the doctor to see the inside of the joint. Instruments are inserted through other small cuts to work on the joint. Surgery will not cure rheumatoid arthritis or stop the disease's progress. But it may improve function and provide some pain relief.

What To Expect After Surgery

Arthroscopy usually does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. After the procedure, the joint should be used as infrequently as possible for several days. Crutches may be needed if the foot or knee joint was examined, depending on the extent of the procedure and the doctor's preference.

Why It Is Done

This procedure is used for treatment in large joints. Procedures done with arthroscopy include:

  • Cleansing and removing debris from the joint (irrigation).
  • Removing any free-floating pieces of bone or cartilage from the joint.
  • Smoothing out rough or irregular joint surfaces.
  • Limited removal of inflamed tissues (synovectomy) in larger joints.

This procedure may not be appropriate if joint destruction is severe.

How Well It Works

Arthroscopy temporarily relieves pain and sometimes eases joint movement but does little to slow the progression of the disease.1

Risks

Risks of arthroscopy include the risks of surgery and using anesthetic and a slight risk of infection and bleeding within the joint.

What To Think About

Arthroscopy does little to change the disease process. Recurrence of pain and other symptoms is likely, but arthroscopy may provide temporary relief.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

References

Citations

  1. Firestein GS (2010). Rheumatoid arthritis. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 15, chap. 2. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 4, 2012

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