Arthroscopy, often called keyhole surgery, is the branch of surgery which uses a flexible tube instrument, the arthroscope, to view and operate on one of the body's joints. Open surgery, where a wound is opened which is big enough to see the problem and to allow the surgical instruments to be used, is still used for many operations but arthroscopy is taking over in many areas.
The advantages of arthroscopy are that the wounds are much smaller, the joint can be well visualised i.e. seen more clearly, trauma is much reduced and the rehabilitation period much quicker to start and much shorter overall. There is more information on the Arthroscopy Wikipedia page and MedicineNet.com.
Knee arthroscopy was the first type of this operation to achieve significant changes and it did so in the way knee injuries were diagnosed and treated. Cartilage injuries are common and the cartilages, properly called menisci, often need small tears removed and trimmed to prevent knee locking, pain and giving way. Arthroscopy can diagnose the problem at the time and the surgeon can use the instruments to cut away, trim or repair structures in the knee.
Open menisectomy is the name for cartilage removal and was treated with several days admission until the knee muscles were strong again, with limited weight bearing with crutches. Modern treatment is as a day case, resulting in little pain and the ability to walk normally on the knee without walking aids. This ensures a shorter rehabilitation period and a more speedy return to normal function.
Knee ligament surgery is also performed in many cases via the arthroscope, with anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction being the most common type, secondary to sporting injuries. Knee replacement surgery is too big for this technique although minimally invasive surgical techniques are steadily being developed for this type of knee surgery.
Many knee pain conditions and difficult to define knee problems can now be potentially investigated or treated with the arthroscope. Many other joints are now managed with arthroscopy for routine operations, such as the shoulder, hip and ankle.
For those wishing to have fun whilst learning about knee surgery there is a knee surgery game and a virtual knee surgery 2 game, both of which allow you to plan and perform the operation, without awful effects on the patients apart from virtual ones.