INTRODUCTION: Compared to rigid arthroscopic optics, a flexible camera system offers theoretically significant advantages: It has the potential to adapt to the naturally curved surface of joints, to move within the joint without stress to the cartilage or capsule and thereby to reduce the number of portals needed. Former studies evaluated flexible fiberoptic systems which were insufficient regarding image resolution. This is the first report on a new flexible videoendoscope with the so called "chip-on-the-tip" technology used in human joints.
METHODS: With a plasma sterilized 3.9 diameter flexible video endoscopy system (Visera ENF V, OLYMPUS) commonly used in diagnostic rhino-laryngoscopy, we performed preliminary testing in cadaveric knee joints. After successful feasibility testing we utilized the tool in two qualitative diagnostic knee and five hip arthroscopies in combination with conventional rigid 30° and 70° arthroscopes (STORZ).
RESULTS: Qualitative evaluation showed superior visualisation of the posterior aspects of the knee joint as insertion of the posterior medial and lateral meniscal horn, tibial insertion of the posterior cruciate ligament and the posterolateral capsulo-ligamentous corner with acceptable image resolution and clarity compared to the rigid arthroscope. In the hip, it was possible to pass around the femoral neck, avoiding additional portals. There seemed to be virtually no risk for cartilage damage at all. Difficulties of the system were scope handling, navigation and orientation within the joint as well as potential damage to the tool itself.
CONCLUSION: This is to our knowledge the first report on flexible videoarthroscopy. Some of the expectations were met, such as to reach virtually every corner the joint with minimal risk for the cartilage or other joint structures and with acceptable image quality. However, there are many significant disadvantages which question the routine use of such a videoendoscopic system with its present technical features.