Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Shoulder Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Shoulder Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery

The shoulder

What is shoulder arthroscopy?

Shoulder arthroscopy is a type of surgery. It lets a doctor repair shoulder problems without making a large cut (incision).

To do this surgery, the doctor puts a lighted tube through small incisions in your shoulder. The tube is called an arthroscope or scope. Next, the doctor puts some surgical tools in the scope to help make any repairs. The incisions will leave scars that usually fade with time.

This type of surgery is used to treat many shoulder problems.

  • Osteoarthritis happens when your cartilage breaks down. Cartilage is the hard, thick tissue that cushions the joints. For this problem, the doctor shaves and smooths rough surfaces on the shoulder joint.
  • A loose body is a loose piece of bone or cartilage. It's often caused by an injury. The doctor may put the loose piece back in place. Sometimes the piece is removed.
  • Impingement syndrome happens when shoulder tissue begins to swell and rub against a bone. This can occur in the tendons of the rotator cuff. Or it may happen in the tendons that connect the bicep to the shoulder. It can also occur in the bursa, the sac between the rotator cuff and the top of the shoulder blade. To fix this problem, your doctor removes the bursa and part of the bone from the point of your shoulder. This increases the space in the shoulder area. In a few weeks, the bursa re-forms.

Shoulder arthroscopy is also used for other problems. These include rotator cuff problems, bicep tendon tears, and shoulder instability. This information does not cover these surgeries.

Most people go home on the day of the surgery. When you can go back to work or your usual activities depends on your shoulder problem. You will probably need about 6 weeks or longer to recover.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens before surgery?

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 2 hours. It depends on what type of shoulder problem you have.

Going home

  • Be sure you have someone to drive you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery. They will cover things like diet, wound care, follow-up care, driving, and getting back to your normal routine.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter W180 in the search box to learn more about "Shoulder Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.