Arthroscopy: A Minimally Invasive Way to Treat Dogs With Joint Pain

Dog at vet clinic
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Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows vets to examine the inside of a joint.

Any time a dog shows signs of joint pain, including lameness, stiffness or difficulty going up or down stairs, your veterinarian may suggest X-rays and blood work. If these techniques don’t provide enough information about the joint, arthroscopy may be an option for some patients.

Arthroscopy, which is also used in human medicine, is a minimally invasive procedure that allows a veterinarian to examine the inside of a joint, potentially make a diagnosis and, in some cases, repair the problem. Unlike traditional open-joint surgeries that require a large incision, arthroscopy can be accomplished through a few tiny incisions.

Once the initial incision is made, an instrument about the width of a pencil, called an arthroscope, is inserted into the joint. The arthroscope contains fiber-optic cables and specialized lighting that illuminates the joint space and lenses that magnify the joint structures. A digital camera captures images and sends them to a TV monitor so the surgeon can examine the joint in detail. If surgical treatment is needed, additional small incisions are created, so specialized surgical instruments can reach the area. Although the procedure is less invasive than open-joint surgery, it still requires general anesthesia for the dog.

Arthroscopy Can Allow Speedier Recovery for Many Dogs

Because arthroscopy is less invasive than open-joint surgery, there’s less tissue damage. As a result, patients generally recover faster.

There are some surgeries, like total hip replacement, that can't be done with arthroscopy.  But many joints in the body can be explored using this procedure, including the elbows, shoulders and knees. Arthroscopy is not for every situation, and not all veterinarians offer the procedure. Ask your vet if arthroscopy might be right for your pet.

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