When Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez injured the connective tissue that lines the outside rim of his hip-joint socket, he opted for a minimally invasive procedure called hip arthroscopy.

Just a few years ago, however, correcting this condition, which is known as a labral tear, would have required a large incision, dislocation of the hip joint—and weeks of recuperation.

"Hip arthroscopy involves only two or three half-inch incisions," says William L. Van der Reis, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Saddleback Medical Center and a board-certified specialist in arthroscopy. Through one opening, doctors insert an arthroscope— an optical device about the diameter of a pencil. A tiny camera at the end of the scope produces real-time video images of the inside of the joint, which helps surgeons assess the problem and correct it. The remaining incisions are used as portals through which a variety of surgical instruments are introduced. Ranging from probes and clamps to suction devices and shavers, these miniature surgical tools are used to trim bone and repair cartilage.

Giant Step Forward

"In most cases, hip arthroscopy takes less than an hour, requires only a local anesthetic and is performed on an outpatient basis," says Dr. Van der Reis. In addition to labral repairs, hip arthroscopy can be used to correct snapping hip syndrome, hip impingement, arthritis, loose bodies in the hip joint and chronic bursitis.

"Hip arthroscopy represents a giant step forward—one that can relieve chronic hip pain and postpone or eliminate the need for hip replacement surgery," says Dr. Van der Reis.

"The incisions are far smaller than in traditional hip surgery, and the recovery period is much shorter, with many patients resuming light activities within a few weeks and returning to sports or more intensive activities within a few months."