Hip arthroscopy is the term for a simple surgical procedure that lets orthopedic doctors see, diagnose, and treat problems inside your hip joint. The procedure requires a small skin incision to insert a pencil-sized camera (the “arthroscope”), with a tiny camera on the tip, whose image the orthopedic surgeon can see on a large screen for clear understanding.
Since hip arthroscopy is nearly always an outpatient surgery, there are rarely complications, and the post-op pain, recovery time, and scarring are all minimal too. All of those benefits makes hip procedures like labral repair, loose body excision, cartilage restoration, and treating Femoral-Acetabular Impingement (FAI) much easier.
Your hip is what’s called a “ball-and-socket” joint. As part of the large pelvis bone, your acetabulum forms the socket. The femoral head (the upper end of the thighbone) is the ball.
A slippery tissue called articular cartilage covers both the socket’s and the ball’s surface, creating a cushiony, frictionless surface to let the bones glide easily across each other.
In addition, there is strong fibrocartilage (the “labrum”) around your acetabulum, forming a gasket of sorts around the socket.
Ligaments are bands of tissue surrounding your hip joint, forming a capsule to tightly hold your hip joint together. The capsule’s underside has a thin membrane lining called the “synovium,” which produces synovial fluid to lubricate your hip joint.
When Hip Arthroscopy Is Recommended
A good orthopedic doctor may recommend hip arthroscopy if you’re still in pain after trying nonsurgical treatments, which include rest, physical therapy, plus injections and medications to reduce inflammation.
When your hip is healthy, your femoral head fits your socket securely.
If you’ve got worn or more deeply damaged articular cartilage, labrum tissue, or other soft tissues around your hip joint, hip arthroscopy may ease your pain. Your orthopedic surgeon will help you decide if the procedure is worthwhile for you.
Hip arthroscopy is usually done under general anesthesia, in which you go to sleep for the operation, but your orthopedic surgeon and one of the anesthesia team members will consult with you about what’s best before the surgery.
The time required for the procedure just depends on how much repair there is to do.
Complications resulting from hip arthroscopy are pretty uncommon, though any surgery on the hip joint is somewhat risky to surrounding nerves, vessels, and the joint itself. Nerves may also get stretched or go numb, but these issues are usually temporary.
There are also small risks of infection and blood clots in the legs (“deep vein thrombosis”).
After hip arthroscopy, you’ll spend an hour or two in the recovery room before you can go home. You’ll need someone to drive you home and stay with you for at least the first night.
Keep in mind: Depending on your initial condition, there’s some chance the hip surgery won’t succeed.
Your orthopedic doctor will create a customized rehab plan for you. You may need to walk on crutches for a while, but only until you’ve stopped limping. That can take up to two months when extensive repair work is done.