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Equine Health Resource

Arthroscopic Exploration, Surgical



Arthroscopic surgery is a comparatively less traumatic form of joint surgery that has been performed on horses since the 1970’s.

The majority of arthroscopic procedures are performed on race horses. However diagnostic arthroscopy has become a common way to visualize the inside of joints and tendon sheaths in horses of all breeds and disciplines.

Arthroscopy is performed via tiny portals into the joint rather than large, open incisions. An arthroscope attached to a video camera is inserted in one portal and an instrument is inserted into another portal remote from the first. The scope allows the operator to visualize the movement of the instrument and the anatomy of the joint.

From a diagnostic standpoint, the scope can be manipulated to see much of the anatomy, depending on the joint and the equipment used. Typically, horses undergoing arthroscopic surgery are placed under general anesthesia.

“Needle arthroscopy” is a new technique made possible by the development of tiny arthroscopes the diameter of a needle. These can be inserted into the joint of a standing, sedated horse. This technique is presently only used for diagnosis. Treatment would still need to be performed in an anesthetized patient.


Arthroscopy has great diagnostic value. It provides a detailed look at many of the surfaces of most equine joints. Cartilage defects and soft tissue lesions that are not visible in radiographs are easily seen with arthroscopy.


Arthroscopy requires practice and lots of skill to "triangulate" effectively within a joint and make the visual connection to a video screen.

Problems not involving the cartilage joint surface may not be visible with an arthroscope.

Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet


  • What are the risks of general anesthesia?
  • Is this diagnostic likely to change prognosis and treatment plan?
  • Can treatment be performed simultaneously?
  • Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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