Although descriptions of the use of arthroscopy in small animals date back to the mid 1970s, clinical use of arthroscopy as a primary diagnostic and treatment modality gained popularity in the mid 1990s. This recent expansion of interest results from several factors, including formal training mechanisms, the advent and availability of video arthroscopes and instrumentation specifically suited for small animal procedures, and advanced capabilities for improved treatment in our patients.
The primary advantage of arthroscopy is its minimally invasive nature, which translates into less tissue trauma, less pain, shorter recovery times, lower complication rates, and more functional recovery than open arthrotomy. The other advantages are less tangible but can be as important; they include visual magnification of the areas of interest, improved access to intraarticular structures, and maintenance of anatomic relationships during surgery. All of these factors lead to more thorough and detailed evaluation of joints and the potential for more precise and optimal treatment.
The primary deterrent to use of arthroscopy in small animals is the cost of the equipment, both initially and for maintenance. The smaller scopes and instrumentation used for small animal joints are more fragile and susceptible to damage. Another major reason why orthopedic surgeons are reluctant to incorporate arthroscopy into everyday use is the initial technical challenge. Many hours of formal training and clinical practice are required to gain the proficiency needed to make arthroscopy efficient, atraumatic, and beneficial to patients.