Ongoing Shoulder Pain - Do I Need Arthroscopy?

Q: I overdid it this summer on the tennis court and hurt my shoulder. My doctor said I should get it “scoped.” What happens during a scope? I have a small child and I worry it may prevent me from carrying her.

A: “Scope” is shorthand for arthroscopy, a procedure that allows surgeons to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint, such as an elbow, knee or, in your case, a shoulder. During the procedure, surgeons insert a small camera into the joint. The camera displays pictures on a TV screen and the surgeons then use the images to guide miniature surgical instruments to make the repair.

Since the instruments are small, the surgeon uses very small incisions rather than a larger incision. This means less pain for patients and a faster recovery so patients can return more quickly to their favorite activities.

Doctors usually recommend a scope if pain still persists after non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, injections and medication have been prescribed. During an arthroscopic procedure, a surgeon can repair a rotator cuff, remove bone spurs, repair ligaments, and remove inflamed tissue or loose cartilage.

Arthroscopies are usually performed as outpatient surgeries and a regional nerve block is used to numb your shoulder and arm during the procedure.  The regional blocks provide for many hours of pain relief after surgery.  Surgeons sometimes prescribe sedation or a light general anesthetic as part of the procedure too since it can be uncomfortable to stay in the same position throughout the entire surgery.  The blocks are combined with some additional level of anesthesia. Most procedures take less than  take about an hour.

Recovery may take a few weeks  to a few months depending on the type of procedure done  and  you will likely experience some pain and discomfort for at least a week after surgery. Some patients also receive a sling to protect the shoulder during recovery.

An exercise program will help you regain shoulder strength and motion during your recovery. Your surgeon will develop a rehab plan based on your own personal case.

As to how long it will be before you can carry your child again, that’s something you will need to discuss with your surgeon since it will depend on the injury and your child’s weight. But look at this way, if your shoulder is not repaired, it will continue to get worse and a more invasive procedure and longer recovery time may be necessary.

By Eric Erickson, MD, orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus in Appleton.