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What to Expect With Shoulder Arthroscopy

What to Expect With Shoulder Arthroscopy

If Steven E. Nolan, MD has recommended you have shoulder arthroscopy, you may have some questions. Rest assured, Dr. Nolan is ready to answer them. In the meantime, we’re offering this post to provide a little information that may be helpful as you prepare for your procedure. 

The structure of your shoulder

Before we talk about arthroscopy, we want to describe the structure of your shoulder. It’s the most mobile joint in your body, and it’s fairly complex. 

First, as you probably know, it’s a ball-and-socket joint. The socket is a shallow depression in your shoulder blade, and the ball is the top of your arm bone. 

One of the reasons you can move your arm in so many ways is that the socket part of the joint is shallow. The ball and socket are covered in a slippery substance so they can move easily against each other, and there’s a bit of tissue called the labrum that forms a gasket around the socket, helping keep things stable. 

The ball is held in the socket by ligaments that form a capsule that holds your joint together. The capsule is lined with a membrane called the synovium that lubricates the joint. Outside the capsule, there are four tendons that form what’s called the rotator cuff. 

When anything goes wrong with any of the parts of your shoulder joint, Dr. Nolan may suggest arthroscopy. 

What happens during shoulder arthroscopy

Sometimes even with advanced imaging, Dr. Nolan can’t tell exactly what’s happening in your shoulder. But, when he looks at it with a tool called an arthroscope, he can examine the structure of your shoulder closely. 

An arthroscope is a very thin tube with a camera and a light attached. Dr. Nolan makes a small incision and inserts the arthroscope into your shoulder. The camera shows images on a screen so that Dr. Nolan can see your joint. 

In some cases, he may simply use the shoulder arthroscopy to diagnose your problem. In other instances, he may go ahead and do some repairs -- cut away damaged tissue or repair a torn rotator cuff, for example -- during the procedure.

What to expect 

You can expect our staff to provide you with thorough instructions for the day of your procedure. Shoulder arthroscopy may be done with local anesthetic or light general anesthesia depending on your medical history, what Dr. Nolan thinks may be wrong with your shoulder, and other factors. 

Most of the time, you can expect the procedure to last less than an hour, but it could be more, depending on the repairs that are necessary. You don’t need to stay overnight, unless there’s a problem that we need to keep an eye on. 


Generally speaking, people heal faster when they’ve had arthroscopy compared to traditional, open surgery. However, you can still expect to need several weeks or even months to fully recover. You may have pain for a few weeks. 

Many people find sleeping in a recliner or propped up more comfortable than lying flat at first. You will probably need a sling or immobilizer of some kind for a while following your procedure. The length of time you need immobilization depends on what happened during the procedure as well as how quickly you heal. 

As you heal, Dr. Nolan will likely recommend strengthening exercises and stretches to help you regain your strength and mobility. He may recommend physical therapy. 

Schedule your appointment today to discuss your specific situation. Just call our Sugar Land, Texas office. We’re always happy to answer questions.

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