Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

A Brief History of Arthroscopy

The Fathers of Arthroscopy

Taken from the greek roots “artho,” meaning joint, and “scope,” meaning to view, arthroscopy is not nearly as ancient as it sounds. In 1805, Dr. Phillip Bozzini was the first documented physician to use a camera-like device to see inside a human body, but it was not until 1918 that Japanese professor Kenji Takagi used this camera-like device to look inside a cadaver’s knee joint. A few years later, a Swiss physician named Eugen Bircher performed the first diagnostic arthroscopy using a laparoscope (a tool normally used for looking inside a patient’s abdomen). Bircher published the first articles describing arthroscopy of the knee, referring to his technique as “arthroendoscopy.” For their early contributions that laid the groundwork for modern arthroscopic surgery, Takagi and Bircher are considered the “fathers of arthroscopy” by many historians and surgeons.

Growth of Modern Arthroscopy

However, World War II delayed advancements in medical science, and it took nearly 15 years after the end of the war for physicians to return to researching and developing arthroscopic surgery. In Japan, a protégé of Takagi’s, Masaki Watanabe, established himself as the “father of modern arthroscopy” by building advanced endoscopic instruments and using electronics and optics, which became popular in Japan in the post- World War II era. Arthroscopy’s transition from a diagnostic tool to therapeutic treatment can also be credited to Watanabe, who used arthroscopy to remove a xanthomatous tumor from a knee on March 9, 1955. Dr .Watanabe willingly shared his knowledge of arthroscopy with anyone who was interested. He wrote the first Atlas of Arthroscopy, which was published in English in 1957. In 1969, Dr. Richard O’Connor visited and studied with Watanabe and, in 1974, O’Connor developed instruments and arthroscopes that enabled him to do the first arthroscopic partial meniscectomies in North America.

Advancing Orthopedic Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery underwent a surge of growth in the 1970s, due primarily to the development of fiber optics and the use of television technology. Visibility improved with fiber optic light cables, and the television monitor allowed surgeons to view the image of the patient’s joint on a screen rather than by relying on direct visualization with the eye through the device. By 1982, the Arthroscopy Association of North America had been established, and doctors began promoting education and practice in arthroscopic surgery. Finally, by the mid-1980s, data showed that surgical techniques using arthroscopy were actually superior to open surgery, which served as the final push in establishing arthroscopy as the standard of practice in orthopedic surgery.