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Shoulder arthroscopy (keyhole surgery)

Fast access to keyhole surgery to treat shoulder pain and injuries

Clinician examining a patient ahead of a shoulder arthroscopy procedure
A shoulder arthroscopy is a procedure used to diagnose and treat a variety of shoulder joint problems. Your surgeon makes a small (keyhole) incision and uses a tiny camera to see inside your shoulder joint, which allows them to check for damage and make any necessary repairs, such as removing loose cartilage or repairing your rotator cuff (a group of muscles and tendons that hold your shoulder together and enable movement).

If you have arthritis, shoulder pain from an injury, pain due to constant wear and tear of your shoulder over time, or some other condition that affects your shoulder joint, your consultant may recommend a private shoulder arthroscopy if more conservative treatments (rest, physiotherapy, etc.) have failed to improve your condition.1

This procedure has been used since the 1970s as a favourable alternative to standard open surgery, given how it allows your surgeon to use extremely small incisions, which results in less pain for you afterwards and means your period of recovery is shorter.

For more information about what to expect from a shoulder arthroscopy, please feel free to get in touch with us on 0141 300 5009, or simply keep reading.

The cost of a shoulder arthroscopy will depend on various factors, including your reasons for having surgery and the extent of damage that needs to be repaired. Below you'll see two example prices for different procedures that can be performed arthroscopically.

Your healthcare team will ensure you know the cost of your treatment at every stage of your journey with them, including information on how and when to pay it. If you would like to get a guide price ahead of time, based on your personal circumstances, give us a call and one of our friendly advisors will help you.

Fixed-price packages

If you are paying for your own treatment, our fixed-price packages include the cost of your surgery and all appropriate aftercare appointments. However, any pre-surgery diagnostic tests and your consultant's outpatient appointment consultation fee are charged separately.

Spread the cost of your payment

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time period that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over 10 months to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

Private health insurance

If you have private health insurance, your treatment will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out more information on this.

If you have any questions about our fixed-price packages and flexible payment options, you can speak to a friendly member of our advisory team on 0141 300 5009.

The cost of shoulder surgery with an arthroscopy to decompress the joint

Please be aware that the following prices are a guide price. Your final price will be confirmed in writing following your consultation and any necessary diagnostic tests.

Patient pathway Initial consultation Diagnostic Investigations Main treatment Post discharge care Guide price
Hospital fees N/A Not included £5,925 Included £5,925
Consultants fees from £200 N/A Included Included £200
Guide price £6,125

The cost of shoulder surgery with an arthroscopy to release the contracture

Please be aware that the following prices are a guide price. Your final price will be confirmed in writing following your consultation and any necessary diagnostic tests.

Patient pathway Initial consultation Diagnostic Investigations Main treatment Post discharge care Guide price
Hospital fees N/A Not included £5,325 Included £5,325
Consultants fees from £200 N/A Included Included £200
Guide price £5,525

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should book in a consultation with us to check whether you would benefit from a shoulder arthroscopy:

  • Joint pain throughout the day
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion
  • Joints locking, moving out of position, or giving way

Your consultant may recommend a shoulder arthroscopy if you experience one or more of these symptoms and haven't felt any improvement after trying non-surgical treatments. These typically include resting the affected shoulder, physiotherapy exercises, and medications and/or injections aimed at reducing inflammation and supporting the healing process for injured tissues. In many cases, giving your shoulder time to rest can bring tissue inflammation down, while physiotherapy may improve range of movement in your shoulder.

If you try these more conservative measures and they don't work, it could be that you have a condition that requires a shoulder arthroscopy.

There are a number of shoulder conditions that can lead to you needing a shoulder arthroscopy, such as:

Rotator cuff tear

Your rotator cuff is a group of four tendons (tissues that link muscle to the bone) that attaches your arm to your shoulder blade and allows you to lift and rotate your arm. If you place high levels of pressure on your rotator cuff over time through constant physical exertion (degenerative tear), or fall down on your outstretched arms (acute tear), one of your tendons can become partially or completely detached from your bone.

When this happens, you will experience pain when resting, especially if lying on the affected shoulder, as well as pain and weakness when lifting or lowering your arm.

Dislocated shoulder

A dislocated shoulder is a common injury in sports, and usually happens as a result of you landing on your shoulder at a certain angle. This causes the head of the humerus (your largest arm bone) to come out of the glenoid cavity (your shoulder socket), causing high levels of pain and significantly reducing how much you can move your arm.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a common condition that affects your joints and generally develops as you age and your joints become worn down.

Constant strain on your cartilage (firm, slippery protective tissue that cushions your joints and allows for smooth motion, preventing your bones from rubbing together) means that your joints become inflamed and injured, along with causing bumps to form on your bone (bone spurs) and deterioration of your ligaments and/or tendons.

Other shoulder conditions that could mean you need a shoulder arthroscopy include:

Your surgeon will ask you a series of questions to begin your consultation. This may include how long you have experienced symptoms, where and when you feel pain when moving your shoulder, and whether you've had any non-surgical treatments for your shoulder joint pain. The initial consultation may also involve a physical examination, during which your consultant will walk you through some range of motion tests, as this may help them understand where your joint problem and/or inflamed tissue lies.

To gain a clearer picture of your problem and what kind of shoulder arthroscopy you might need, your consultant may also order an MRI scan. This test uses radio waves and a magnetic field that produces detailed images of your bone, joints, and cartilage, enabling your consultant to see any inflammation and/or tears taking place. MRIs are a highly effective way of diagnosing rotator cuff tears and any other conditions that affect the bones and muscles.

Once the physical examination and MRI is complete, your surgeon will be able to confirm whether you need a shoulder arthroscopy. They will generally only recommend surgery when more conservative treatments (rest, medication, physiotherapy, etc.) have not made a difference.

There are several ways to make sure you are fully prepared for a shoulder arthroscopy, including:

Tests

To make sure that you are suitable for a shoulder arthroscopy, your consultant may carry out a series of preoperative tests. Taking your blood count, for example, helps them know that you won't experience any issues with bleeding during and/or the surgery. They may also run a chest X-ray and/or an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check the performance of your heart.

Stop smoking

If you are a smoker, you run a greater risk of experiencing heart issues and trouble breathing after surgery, along with needing more general anaesthetic during the surgery, which can cause further complications. Your chances of making a full recovery from surgery are also reduced if you continue to smoke. So, to make sure you are as ready as possible for your shoulder arthroscopy, we recommend that you stop smoking at least two weeks before your procedure. If you need some help with smoking cessation, or have any questions, please speak to your consultant.

Prepare your home

For the first week or so after surgery, you will be in some pain and your movement will be limited. You won't be able to do any lifting, so you won't be able to make a quick trip to the shop to grab something. In advance, then, make sure you stock up on everything you need and create a nice recovery space that has important supplies within easy reach. If you need anything as you're recovering during that first week, see if a family member or friend can grab it for you.

Please also be careful of any tripping hazards at your home, such as loose tiles, rugs, or carpets, furniture, or general mess. Remove anything that might cause you to trip before coming to hospital for surgery.

Speak to your consultant about medication

Your consultant will check which medication or supplements you are taking before booking you in for surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medications - particularly any blood-thinners, such as aspirin, anti-inflammatories, or warfarin, as these can increase the chances of unwanted bleeding during and/or after the procedure.

Food and drink

If you are going under general anaesthetic, you will need to avoid eating and drinking after midnight on the day of your surgery, so take care to drink plenty of water and eat healthy food beforehand. Please also refrain from drinking any alcohol 48 hours prior your shoulder arthroscopy.

We run you through the process of shoulder arthroscopy below.

Anaesthesia

Typically, shoulder arthroscopy is performed under general anaesthetic, which means you'll be asleep for the full operation and won't feel any pain at all.

Another option is to use regional nerve blocks that numb your shoulder and arm for around 12 hours. The regional nerve block may be combined with lighter general anaesthetic, as this makes sure you feel comfortable throughout the entire process. You won't see the operation taking place, and you won't feel discomfort of any kind.

Where possible, you will be given the chance to decide what kind of anaesthesia feels right for you. Some people don't like the idea of being put to sleep, while others may not want to be awake during a surgical procedure. Let us know what is preferable to you.

During your shoulder operation

Depending on the kind of repair work you might need, a shoulder arthroscopy lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and one hour. This is an outpatient surgery, meaning you'll be able to go home on the same day as your treatment.

You will be positioned in a reclined sitting position, or potentially on your side, so that your surgeon can easily adjust their arthroscope (the camera that looks inside your shoulder) and have a clear view of what they are doing. They will then remove any hair (if required) and clean your shoulder skin with sterile drapes, ahead of putting your forearm in a holding device to ensure your arm remains perfectly still.

Once the site of the incision has been fully prepared, your surgeon can begin the shoulder arthroscopy, which commonly follows the same series of steps:

  • Fluid is injected into your shoulder joint, inflating your joint and making it easier for your surgeon to see all the different muscles and tendons in your shoulder
  • A small puncture is made in your shoulder (about the size of a buttonhole) to create space for the arthroscope
  • The arthroscope is inserted into the incision that has been made and guided towards your shoulder joint, with images from the arthroscope being projected onto a video screen to show your surgeon the inside of your shoulder and the exact location/nature of your shoulder damage. Fluid flows through the arthroscope to give your surgeon a clear view at all times and control any bleeding
  • After your surgeon has completed an assessment of your shoulder with their arthroscope, they will then make other small cuts in your shoulder and insert tiny specialist instruments that address your particular issue. These instruments can be used for anchoring stitches into bone, removing loose cartilage, knot tying, or shaving off and/or cutting away parts of bone that have become compressed
  • Having made the necessary repairs to your shoulder, your surgeon will close the incisions with either stitches or small band-aids known as steri-strips, ahead of covering the area with a large bandage

There are different kinds of repair work that might be needed during your shoulder arthroscopy, with some leading to a longer recovery time than others. You might be back to full fitness after a few weeks, or it may take a few months. Along with the type of surgery you had, there are various factors that can influence your recovery timeline, such as:

  • Your fitness levels
  • Your everyday activities
  • The nature of your job
  • General health
  • Your age
  • The type of arthroscopy you have had (diagnostic or treatment)

Recovering at hospital

If your operation was performed under general anaesthetic, you will feel a bit groggy when you wake up, so you'll be given couple of hours to rest and feel more like yourself. Your arm will be placed in a sling to rest your shoulder and keep it in the correct position. You will need to wear this sling for two to four weeks.

One to seven days after surgery

You will experience some pain for a few weeks after your surgery, and we will make sure you are given all the pain relief medication you need for this period. Keep your shoulder iced throughout the day to reduce discomfort and swelling. To start with, you may find that sleeping flat is uncomfortable, so prop yourself up on some pillows or sleep in a reclining chair for the first week or so if that feels better.

After a few days, you should be able to replace your large bandage with basic band-aids. If your surgeon used stitches, you must avoid getting them wet until they are removed (usually five days after the surgery). However, in cases where stitches weren't used, you can shower normally once the wounds are no longer seeping. Please be careful to avoid soaking or scrubbing your incisions, though.

One week to three weeks after surgery

If your job does not involve any physical exertion, you can probably return to work after about a week, but please note that your arm will not be fully functional by this stage. You will need to wait longer if your job involves lifting or other forms of physical exercise (anywhere between one and three months). Your surgeon will give you detailed advice about when you can make a return to certain activities.

You may still experience some pain during this period, so keep your arm rested as much as possible. Your physiotherapist will run you through a series of exercises - ones based on the exact kind of shoulder arthroscopy you had - that gradually increase the strength and mobility of your arm. You'll also receive an exercise sheet of exercises that you can do at home every day.

Three weeks to two months after surgery

In some cases, you may feel almost back to your best after three or four weeks, whereas others could still be experiencing some pain and/or stiffness. Your sling would have been removed after around three weeks, and you'll be able to resume most everyday activities during this period, including driving, which you can do as soon as you're able to grip the steering wheel and perform an emergency stop.

At this stage of your rehabilitation process, you will be able to step up the level of exercise you do. Your physiotherapist may prescribe weight-bearing exercises, gym work, and swimming when they judge that you are ready.4 These exercises will help you on your journey towards regaining a full range of motion. Eventually, you should be able to return to the activities you love - football, tennis, cricket, etc. - without any discomfort.

Shoulder arthroscopy is an extremely common surgery, so it is virtually risk-free. However, some complications can occur, which your consultant will explain to you in full ahead of you having the procedure.

General complications of any operation

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of a shoulder arthroscopy

  • Excessive bleeding into your joint
  • Damage to blood vessels and nerves
  • Wound becomes hot, red, or swollen
  • Wound oozes and/or bleeds
  • High fever and/or temperature

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The autonomy to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your particular preferences
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standards and delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more about shoulder arthroscopy, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in November 2022. Next review due November 2025.

  1. Shoulder arthroscopy, OrthoInfo
  2. Rotator cuff tears, OrtoInfo
  3. Correlation between MRI and Arthroscopy in Diagnosis of Shoulder Pathology, NIH
  4. Shoulder arthroscopy rehab protocol, The Stone Clinic

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