If you’ve ever felt pain in your knees after running or playing sports, you may have knee arthritis. This condition is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in your knee joint, which can lead to decreased mobility and pain. If your knees are not responding well to nonsurgical treatment such as physical therapy, rest, and pain medication, your doctor is most likely to recommend knee arthroscopy.

Knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that can treat several conditions in the knees, including arthritis, stiffness, and blood clots.

And if you’re someone who requires knee arthroscopy surgery, then you’re probably wondering what to expect during the recovery process. You might have questions such as:

“Will I need crutches?”

“How long will it take before I start to feel better?”

“What do I need to do to make sure I don’t re-injure myself?”

All this and more in this blog post. Let’s start by understanding the anatomy of the knee.

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the human body. It’s made up of three bones: the femur (thighbone), the tibia (shinbone), and the patella (kneecap).

The knee joint is held together by a network of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It’s responsible for performing a vital role in daily activities such as walking, running, and jumping.

What is Knee Arthroscopy

Arthroscopic knee surgery, also known as small cuts, is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat a variety of conditions affecting the knee joint. It’s typically performed using a tiny camera, called an arthroscope, which is inserted into the joint through small incisions. This allows the surgeon to visualize the inside of the knee and repair any damage that is present. 

The most common reason for arthroscopic knee surgery is to repair a torn meniscus. The meniscus or menisci are two crescent-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia. A tear in the meniscus can cause pain and difficulty moving the joint. It also causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. 

During arthroscopic surgery, the surgeon will trim away the damaged portion of the meniscus.  It’s also worth noting that blood clots are a serious complication of meniscal repair surgery. They can occur when the blood flow to the knee is restricted. With an ice pack, proper treatment, and rest, most people with meniscus tears can return to their normal activities.

But in general, arthroscopic knee surgery is generally safe and effective. Most people can go home the same day or within a couple of days after surgery. There is typically minimal pain and discomfort after surgery, and patients can usually resume normal activities within a few weeks.


Types of Anesthesia for Knee Arthroscopic Surgery

The type of anesthesia used will be dependent on the reason for knee surgery, the patient’s medical history, and their preference. Three main types of anesthesia can be used for knee arthroscopic surgery: local, regional, and general.

Local anaesthetic

A local anesthetic numbs the surgical area. It’s usually injected into the knee joint. You’ll be awake during the surgery but won’t feel any pain.

General anesthesia

General anesthesia is given when the patient is asleep and does not feel pain. It’s also used if the knee joint is very inflamed.

Regional anaesthetic

A regional anesthetic numbs the knee and surrounding area. It’s usually given as an injection into the thigh or lower leg. The patient is awake during surgery but won’t feel any pain in the knee joint.

The type of anesthesia used will depend on the type of surgery being performed. For example, a partial meniscectomy can be done under local anesthesia, while a more complex surgery such as a total knee replacement may require general anesthesia. Each type of anesthesia has its risks and benefits, so it is important to listen to your doctor’s instructions and recommendations.

Knee arthroscopy may be recommended for these knee problems with the application of a general anesthetic:

Meniscus tears (you can also opt to have a meniscal repair)

– Articular cartilage damage

– Knee joint effusion (fluid build-up)

Loose bodies in the knee joint

Synovitis (knee joint inflammation)

– Patellofemoral syndrome (kneecap pain)

– Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears

How long will I need crutches after arthroscopic surgery?

Most patients will need to use crutches for a few days to a week (2 to 7 days on average) after knee surgery. Depending on the type of knee surgery you had, physical therapy may also be recommended.

Knee Arthroscopy complications and risk

Any surgery has potential risks and complications. With this, it’s essential to discuss these concerns with your surgeon before having knee arthroscopy. One common complication from knee arthroscopy is patellar tendonitis, which can be treated with physical therapy, ice, and NSAIDs. In some cases, patients may require the use of crutches.

Other potential complications include infection, nerve damage, and blood clots. The risk of developing a complication is usually low, but it increases if the surgery is performed on an obese patient or someone with diabetes.

Patients may also experience operating room complications, such as infection or anesthesia issues. Most complications can be treated successfully, but in rare cases, another surgery may be required to mitigate this issue.

You’ll likely have a follow-up appointment with your doctor a week or so after the procedure. Make sure to go to this appointment so that your doctor can check on your recovery progress. 


Knee Arthroscopy Recovery Time

You may need to stay in the recovery room for a while before you are discharged. However, most people who have knee arthroscopy surgery can go home the same day. They can also experience a full recovery within a few months. However, the exact timeline depends on the individual and the extent of the surgery.

In general, it is recommended that patients wear a knee brace for the first week after surgery. They’ll also likely have a small dressing on your knee. This helps to protect the joint and promote healing. Most people also need to take pain medicine for the first few days after surgery.

Ice is also typically applied to the knee for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day. To do this, fill a plastic bag with ice and wrap it in a towel before applying it to the knee. By following these simple guidelines, most people can expect to make a full recovery within a few months.

You’ll also be given a list of activities you should and shouldn’t do during your recovery. Your doctor may recommend that you see a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help improve your range of motion and strength, both of which are important for recovery. Therapy typically starts a few days after surgery and continues for several weeks. 

8 Tips to Care for Your Knee At Home After Knee Arthroscopy

If you’ve recently had knee arthroscopy, you may be wondering how to best care for your knee at home. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. If you have a desk job, try to prop your leg up on a stool or cushion when you can. This helps reduce swelling. 
  2. Eat healthily. A nutritious diet can help improve the strength and flexibility of your knees. Exercise as directed by your doctor or physical therapist.
  3. Avoid heavy lifting for at least a week after the surgery. 
  4. It’s normal to feel some pain and discomfort after knee arthroscopy. Try taking over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen to help manage any pain. 
  5. You may have some drainage from your incisions after the surgery. This is normal! Just make sure to keep the incisions clean and dry every day. 
  6. Rest while you can. Try to take it easy for the first week or so after the surgery. This means avoiding any strenuous activity, like running or playing sports. 
  7. Increase your steps. Once the pain and swelling have gone down, you can start to slowly walk around. Start with short walks and then gradually increase the distance as you feel more comfortable.  
  8. Say positive affirmations. Telling yourself to trust the process is a powerful way to convince your mind that you can get through this. You can make this a hobby by saying things that make you feel good in the mirror every morning or every time you’re about to sleep.

Patience Matters

You won’t recover on the first day after surgery. Be patient with your knee arthroscopy recovery. It takes time for the inflammation to subside and for the range of motion to return. Be sure to follow your post-operative instructions, including ice, elevation, and physical therapy.

Most importantly, do not put any weight on your leg until your surgeon tells you it is okay to do so. Even then, progress slowly, listen to your body, and call your surgeon if you experience any unusual pain or swelling. With time and patience, you will soon be back to your normal self.

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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