Your knee is made up of bones, soft tissue, cartilage and other components which all work together to allow your knee to carry out its motions smoothly, with stability, and pain-free. If any of these components become damaged, symptoms may occur, such as pain, swelling, instability, clicking or grinding sounds, locking of the knee, and the loss of full range of motion. The cause of these symptoms may be a defect which is repairable through arthroscopic surgery.
Arthroscopic surgery is a technique which allows the surgeon to operate through two or three small (1 cm) incisions around the knee. A video-camera is placed in one incision to visualize the inside of the knee joint, and specialized surgical instruments are inserted into the other incisions. The benefits of this type of procedure include small scars, a minimized risk of blood loss and infection, and a quicker recovery.
Knee arthroscopy encompasses a wide range of procedures, some of which are fairly minor and some of which are more complex and invasive, with long recovery times. Knee arthroscopy can be used to diagnose a problem, to remove, trim or repair damaged tissue, and to fix other structural abnormalities in the knee. Common problems treated using knee arthroscopy include the following: a torn meniscus, torn ligaments, osteochondritis dissecans, misalignment of the kneecap, and pieces or broken cartilage or bone in the knee joint. The goals of knee arthroscopy are to alleviate symptoms, improve the function of the joint, and prevent future degenerative changes in the joint.
Knee arthroscopies are performed as day procedures, which means that the patient will come in to the hospital in the morning and will go home in the afternoon. They are typically performed under general anesthetic, and a nerve block may also be used to numb the leg and reduce post-operative pain. Stitches and steri-strips will be used to close the incisions and they will be covered with dressings. See the “Day of surgery” section for more details regarding the day of surgery.
As with any surgery, a knee arthroscopy does carry some risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, pain, stiffness, scarring, infection and nerve damage. In the majority of cases, these complications are not permanent and should resolve over time, or are reversible with appropriate treatment. Your surgeon will make every effort to minimize these risks.
Recovery and outcome following knee arthroscopy will differ from patient to patient and will depend largely on the specific procedure performed, and the individual’s pre- and post-surgery levels of physical activity. Recovery after surgery takes weeks to months of hard work to rehabilitate the knee in order to achieve a full range of motion and adequate strength for physical activity.
Following surgery, you will be using crutches and your surgeon will outline your specific weight bearing limitations, which will depend on the procedure preformed. It is common to experience some pain and discomfort in the days after surgery, but this will decrease over time. You will come in to the clinic for your first follow-up appointment at about 2 weeks post-op. At this point you should have already begun physiotherapy, and may already have stopped using crutches.
Following surgery, the goal is to end up with a knee that feels strong, with reduced pain, a full range of motion, and one which allows you to be physically active. Although this goal is achieved in most patients, some individuals will find that even though their knee is improved, some symptoms persist. Recovery should be a steady improvement in the long-run, however there will be bumps along the way. A successful recovery depends on the patient putting in the work to increase strength and mobility, while still protecting the joint.