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Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure used to visualize and treat problems inside the ankle joint. The term arthroscopy literally translates to “looking within the joint.” During an arthroscopy procedure, fiber optic cameras and small surgical tools are used to explore the ankle joint and remove debris. The procedure can help treat ankle pain and confirm a diagnosis of damage to bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.

Reasons for treatment

Arthroscopy aids in the diagnosis of numerous diseases and injuries affecting the ankle. Conditions treated with arthroscopy include: 

  • Bone spurs: Bone spurs can develop in the front of the ankle joint, causing restricted mobility of the ankle and foot. With arthroscopy, surgeons can shave down the bone spur to increase movement of the joint. 
  • Cartilage damage: Cartilage damage is common in people who have suffered an injury to the ankle joint (like a sprained ankle). If left untreated, cartilage damage can eventually lead to arthritis of the ankle joint. 
  • Scar tissue: Certain conditions and injuries can cause an accumulation of scar tissue or loose debris in the ankle joint. Removing scar tissue via arthroscopy can help reduce pain and swelling inside the joint. 
  • Undiagnosed ankle pain: Arthroscopy can be used to make a final diagnosis in cases of unexplained ankle pain. Arthroscopy is considered more accurate than x-rays and other imaging methods.

Arthroscopy is the preferred method of diagnosis and treatment of ankle problems because it produces little scarring and carries less risk of infection.

How arthroscopy is performed

Ankle arthroscopy procedures can be performed using general or local anesthesia. The surgeon will make several small incisions near the ankle joint and begin by inserting the arthroscope. The arthroscope is a pen-shaped instrument with a small camera and light source attached at the end. The images from the arthroscope are transferred to a TV monitor, providing a clear view of the inside of the ankle joint.

If the surgeon detects damage to the joint, they can use small surgical tools to begin removing debris and repairing the joint. Recovery from an arthroscopy procedure is much faster than recovery from open ankle surgery; however, some patients may have to be immobilized with a splint or cast for up to six weeks after surgery.

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