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What Is the Difference Between Open and Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery?

If your orthopedic surgeon recommends shoulder surgery, it’s important to ask your doctor questions about what to expect from your operation. With many types of injuries, there are typically two surgical approaches: traditional open surgery and arthroscopic surgery. While each type has distinct pros and cons, your surgeon will determine which surgery is suited to your situation and your specific shoulder injury and will have the best long-term results. Whether your surgeon chooses an open or arthroscopic approach is dependent on the type of injury or joint problem you have. For instance, some arthritic shoulder changes are better suited to open surgery, while many sports injuries can be treated through a less invasive, arthroscopic approach.

Arthroscopic Surgery for Shoulder Injuries

Arthroscopic surgery gets its name from the tiny camera, an arthroscope, inserted into the incision and produces real-time images of the area where the surgeon is operating. Often called minimally invasive surgery, arthroscopic shoulder surgery utilizes much smaller incisions as opposed to a large incision used in an open approach. This modern technique is often preferred for many patients, owing to the many advantages and faster healing.

Benefits of arthroscopic surgery include:

  • Less blood loss: Smaller incisions mean less bleeding.
  • Smaller scars: Likewise, smaller incisions mean there will be less scar tissue once the incision wound heals.
  • Faster recovery: Patients can recover more quickly from a minimally invasive surgical technique.
  • Less risk of infection: With smaller incisions, there is less risk of a potential infection.

Disadvantages of arthroscopy include:

  • Severe injuries are often not suited to this approach
  • The surgeon has less room to work

Traditional Open Surgery

The main difference between minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery and a traditional open approach is the size of the incision the doctor will use to repair the patient’s joint. Until recent years, an open approach was the only method doctors used. However, open surgical methods are still widely utilized to this day, especially for very severe shoulder injuries, including arthritic shoulder changes and traumatic shoulder injuries.

Two significant benefits of open surgery include:

  • More room for the surgeon to visualize the injury
  • The surgeon can visualize the injury directly, without the use of a camera
  • A broader scope of injuries can be treated with open surgery, such as highly damaged joints, or if large prosthetic materials must be inserted into the incision

Should I Have Open or Arthroscopic Surgery for My Shoulder(s)?

The answer is: it depends. Arthroscopy is an attractive option for many young, active people, and particularly for athletes who want to return to their sport as quickly as possible. Arthroscopic surgery is also a popular option for elderly patients who have exhausted nonsurgical treatment options without success or relief from pain.

If you have joint pain from arthritis or an injury, our skilled, board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Comprehensive Spine Institute will thoroughly evaluate you and help you make the right choice between open or arthroscopic surgery.

You can reach Comprehensive Spine Institute at (727) 300-2537 to schedule an appointment.