Your surgeon will explain how to prepare for your operation. For example if you smoke, it’s best to stop, as this increases your risk of a chest or wound infection, which can slow your recovery.
A knee arthroscopy is usually done as a day case, which means you will have the procedure and go home on the same day.
You will usually have a knee arthroscopy under general anaesthesia but you might be able to have it under local anaesthesia. If you have a general anaesthetic, you’ll be asleep during the procedure. A local anaesthetic completely blocks pain from your knee and you’ll stay awake during the operation. Your surgeon may offer you a sedative, which can relieve anxiety and help you to relax.
A general anaesthetic can make you sick so it’s important that you don’t eat or drink anything for six hours before your arthroscopy. Follow your anaesthetist or surgeon’s advice. If you have any questions, just ask.
Your surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand exactly what will happen. You might find it helpful to prepare some questions to ask about the risks, benefits and alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to know as much as possible about the procedure so you can give your consent for it to go ahead. You will be asked to sign a consent form.
You may need to wear a compression stocking on your other (unaffected) leg to keep your blood flowing. You may need to have an injection of an anticlotting medicine called heparin too.
An arthroscopy will take at least 30 minutes, depending on how much work your surgeon needs to do inside your knee joint.
Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your surgeon will make small cuts in the skin around your knee. They will put sterile fluid into your knee joint to rinse it out. This will help your surgeon to see the inside of your knee better. Your surgeon will then insert the arthroscope and examine your knee joint by looking at images that are sent to a monitor. They may use instruments, such as scissors or lasers, to repair or remove any damaged tissue, such as cartilage or ligaments.
Your surgeon will then drain the fluid out and close the cuts with stitches or adhesive strips, and wrap a dressing around your knee.Play video
You will need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. It may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your knee. Take care not to bump or knock it.
You might have some discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off. But you’ll be offered pain relief as you need it.
You’ll usually be able to go home when you feel ready. Make sure someone can take you home. And ask someone to stay with you for a day or so while the anaesthetic wears off.
You might not be able to put weight on your leg so may need some help to stand or walk. Your hospital may give you crutches or a walking frame to take home. Your surgeon or nurse will give you advice on how to use these, and for how long.
A physiotherapist (a health professional who specialises in maintaining and improving movement and mobility) may give you some exercises to do. These will help to improve the strength in your knee and how well you can move it.
Your nurse will give you some advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.
The time it takes for dissolvable stitches to disappear depends on what type you have. If you have non-dissolvable stitches, these are usually removed by the practice nurse at your GP surgery a week or two after your procedure.
If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and, if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Having a general anaesthetic can affect you in ways you may not expect. You might find that you’re not so coordinated or that it’s difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don’t drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important.
You’ll need to keep your knee and the dressings on it clean and dry. Your surgeon or nurse will tell you when you can have a bath or shower.
Your knee is likely to feel sore and swollen. If you apply a cold compress, such as ice or a bag of frozen peas, it may help reduce swelling and bruising. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage your skin; wrap it in a towel first.
You’ll probably be able to drive about a week or two after a knee arthroscopy but follow your surgeon’s advice. It’s very important to let your insurance company know about your procedure.
The time it takes to recover will depend on the type of treatment, if any, you have. You might be able to get back to your usual activities a week or two after a knee arthroscopy. However, it depends on how severe your knee problems were. It can take up to six months before you can do sports again.
You may be able to return to work much sooner than this. However, if you do heavy physical work as part of your job, you may need longer.
If you want to travel, wait at least a week until you fly but this will depend on what you had done during your knee arthroscopy. You may have to delay your trip if you’re planning to take a flight over three hours because of the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). As well as following your surgeon's advice, it’s worth contacting any airline that you may be travelling with.
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with a knee arthroscopy. We haven’t included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.
These are the unwanted, but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. You may have some pain and swelling around your knee after a knee arthroscopy. You will also have small scars on your knee from the cuts.
This is when problems happen during or after the operation. The possible complications of an arthroscopy include:
- accidental damage to the inside of your knee joint
- an infection inside your knee joint
- damage to your nerves, which can lead to you losing the feeling in the skin over your knee
- bleeding into your knee joint
- persistent pain
- deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
What can I do to make my recovery easier?
Aim to be as fit and healthy as possible before your operation and prepare your home for when you return.
If you’re having a knee arthroscopy, there are certain things that it’s worth doing before your operation as they will speed up your recovery.
It’s important to stop smoking as it can increase your chance of getting an infection and slow your recovery. If you’re overweight, you may be advised to try to lose some before your operation.
It’s also a good idea to strengthen your upper body. This will help you to get around after the surgery if you need crutches. If possible, find out about exercises that will help to strengthen the muscles around your knee too. This will speed up your recovery and will mean you’re more prepared for the exercises your physiotherapist will give you after your operation.
It’s a good idea to prepare your home for when you return from hospital. You might want to rearrange your furniture so you have more space to move around when you’re using crutches. Place items you use a lot where you can reach them easily. It’s also a good idea to stock up on frozen or tinned food, so you don’t have to go shopping immediately after your procedure.
You may need some extra help during the first few days at home so see if your family or friends can stay with you.
When can I start exercising again and what exercises are suitable?
After your arthroscopy, it’s important to exercise regularly to restore your knee’s movement and strength. But don’t do any high-impact exercises, such as running, for at least six weeks.
You will need to gradually rebuild the strength and movement in your knee after an arthroscopy.
Your physiotherapist may recommend some exercises for your knee that you can do at home. These will involve stretching and tightening muscles, and bending and flexing your knee. You may have physiotherapy for several weeks after your operation.
To begin with, take it very easy. You can then start to do some gentle exercise, such as walking. Always stop if your knee swells or if you feel any pain. If this happens, follow the PRICE procedure.
- Protect your knee from further harm.
- Rest your knee for two to three days, then re-introduce movement so you don’t lose too much muscle strength.
- Ice the injured area using an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel to reduce swelling and bruising. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage your skin.
- Compress the area by bandaging it to support your knee and help reduce swelling. The bandage should fit snugly but not be too tight. Take it off before you go to bed.
- Elevate your knee to control swelling. Keep the area supported and try to keep it raised as much as possible until the swelling goes down.
You should be able to get back to your usual activities after six to eight weeks. But this will depend on your procedure and what you had done. Your surgeon or physiotherapist will give you more information about what you can do.
Will my knee recover completely?
Your knee may not recover completely after your operation. It will depend on the type of damage to your knee and how severe it is.
A knee arthroscopy can treat a variety of conditions but your recovery will depend on how badly damaged your knee is. It’s possible that you may have injured your knee in such a way that prevents it from recovering completely. Your surgeon may not know how severe your injury is until you have your arthroscopy, which gives a good view of the inside of it.
It’s important to do the exercises your physiotherapist gives you so you recover as much fitness as possible. Don’t do any high-impact exercises, such as running, for at least six weeks.
You should be able to get back to your normal activities after about eight weeks but this varies from person to person. Talk to your surgeon about when you can return to high-level or intense physical activity.
- Arthritis Research UK
0300 790 0400
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- Arthroscopic radiofrequency chondroplasty for discrete chondral defects of the knee. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2014. www.nice.org.uk
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- Reichenbach S, Rutjes AWS, Nüesch E, et al. Joint lavage for osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 5. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007320.pub2
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- Arthritis Research UK
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