Surgery of the shoulder can often be done through a few small incisions, with the aid of an arthroscope, rather than through one larger incision. Rotator cuff tears are often repaired arthroscopically. The surgeon uses the arthroscope (or scope, for short) to visualize the inside of the joint. A camera at the end of the scope with a very bright fiber optic light source is connected to a video monitor in the operating room, allowing the surgeon view a live picture of the inside of the shoulder joint (Figure 1).


Figure 1. The inside of the shoulder joint, as viewed from the arthroscope. The grey plastic cannula has been inserted into the portal. Arthroscopic surgical instruments can now be introduced into the joint through the cannula.

Shoulder arthroscopy is performed through “portals”. These are small skin incisions, generally about 1/2 inch long, that are located over specific areas of the shoulder joint. Small plastic tubes called cannulas are inserted into the portals so that instruments can be placed in the shoulder joint. These instruments that have been designed to remove inflamed tissue, attach sutures to bone, and repair torn tendons. Patients who have arthroscopic surgery often go home the same day.