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Shoulder Arthroscopy


A shoulder arthroscopy

is a procedure to look inside your shoulder with an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a thin tube with a light and camera on the end. During a shoulder arthroscopy, your healthcare provider may fix problems in your joint. Problems may include a torn rotator cuff, swollen tissue, or bone spurs.

How to prepare for a shoulder arthroscopy:

  • Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for your procedure. You may need an x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI before your procedure. These tests will take pictures of your joint and help your healthcare provider plan for your surgery. Arrange for someone to drive you home. Ask the person to stay with you for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your procedure. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your procedure. You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection.

What will happen during a shoulder arthroscopy:

  • You will get general anesthesia to keep you asleep and pain-free during your procedure. You may also get a regional block that numbs your shoulder. The regional block will help decrease pain after your procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider will make small incisions in your shoulder. He or she will rinse out the fluid that is in your shoulder. This will help him or her see your joint better. The arthroscope will be inserted into one of the incisions. The picture from the scope will be seen on a monitor. Your healthcare provider will examine your shoulder joint. He or she may insert tools into incisions in different places on your shoulder. The tools may be used to repair a torn rotator cuff, ligament, or dislocation. Tools may also be used to remove swollen tissue, cartilage, or a bone spur. Your healthcare provider may close your incisions with stitches or medical tape and cover them with a small bandage.

What will happen after a shoulder arthroscopy:

Healthcare providers will monitor you until you are awake. You may need an x-ray to look at your shoulder joint and monitor for complications. Do not move your shoulder until your healthcare provider says it is okay. You may be given instructions on what movements to avoid. You may able to go home when your pain is controlled or you may need to spend a night in the hospital.

Risks of a shoulder arthroscopy:

You may bleed more than expected or get an infection. Nerves, ligaments, tendons, or blood vessels may be damaged during your procedure. You may get a blood clot in your arm or have trouble moving your shoulder.

Call 911 for the following:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • Your stitches come apart.
  • Your arm or fingers feel numb or look pale.
  • Your arm is larger than normal, red, and feels warm.
  • You cannot move your arm.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • Your wound is red, swollen, or draining pus.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or you have a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for yourself at home:

  • Apply ice on your shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Keep your arm in a sling or immobilizer as directed. You may need to wear a sling or immobilizer to prevent movement. This may help your shoulder heal and decrease pain. Wear your sling or immobilizer at all times, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise. Ask your healthcare provider if you can remove your sling or immobilizer to bathe.
  • Move your arm only as directed. Ask your healthcare provider if you can remove your sling or immobilizer to move your arm. Ask him or her what arm movements are okay to do. It may be okay to straighten your arm below your elbow or move your wrist and hand. Your healthcare provider may tell you to move your fingers, hand, and wrist. He or she may tell you to move them 3 to 4 times per day. Some arm movements may cause injury or put too much stress on your shoulder. Do not do any of the following:
    • Move your arm over your head or away from your body
    • Lift anything with your arm or hand
    • Lean on the arm
    • Pull objects toward you with your arm
    • Move or twist your elbow behind your back
  • Sleep in an upright position. This position may decrease pain and make it more comfortable to sleep. Place 2 to 3 pillows lengthwise behind your back when in bed. Make sure the pillows do not move your shoulder forward. Instead, you can sleep in a reclining chair.
  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. Ask your healthcare provider when you need to start physical therapy.

Care for your incision site:

Ask your healthcare provider when your incision site can get wet. Carefully wash around the site with soap and water. Allow soap and water to gently run over the site. Do not scrub the incision. Dry the area and put on new, clean bandages as directed. Change your bandages when they get wet or dirty. Check the site every day for signs of infection such as swelling, redness, or pus.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Shoulder Arthroscopy (Ambulatory Care)

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