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Arthroscopic knee surgery is a type of surgery for knee pain. It involves making small incisions around your knee joint to insert a tiny camera, called an arthroscope. This allows your surgeon to see the inside of your joint without having to make a large incision.

And if you are one of the many people who need arthroscopic knee surgery, then you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect after the surgery. In this patient’s guide, we’ll give you a brief overview of what this type of surgery is, its risks, how it can affect you mentally, and the simple tips you can do to manage yourself after surgery.

Who Needs Arthroscopic Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure used to visualize, diagnose, and treat problems inside a joint through small cuts.

The word “arthroscopy” comes from the Greek words “arthro,” meaning joint, and “skopein,” meaning to look. As we mentioned earlier, an arthroscope is a small camera that is inserted into the joint through a small incision. This allows the surgeon to see the inside of the joint without making large incisions.

It’s the best option for damaged soft tissues such as meniscus tears, ligamentous tears, and articular cartilage damage. In some cases, it may be used to correct alignment issues or to release pressure on the knee cap. 

In addition, arthroscopic surgery can treat problems such as patellar tracking disorder and synovitis.

The advantages of arthroscopic surgery include a shorter hospital stay, less pain, and a quicker recovery. However, the procedure is not suitable for everyone. People who do heavy work are not good candidates for arthroscopic surgery. The procedure is not always successful, and some patients may require a second surgery.

Types of Anesthesia for Arthroscopic Surgery

When undergoing surgical procedures, it is important to carefully consider the type of anesthesia that will be used. Three main types of anesthesia can be used for arthroscopic surgery: general anesthesia, local anesthesia, and regional anesthesia.

General anesthesia is used to put the patient into a deep sleep during the surgery. This type of anesthesia is typically used for more complex procedures. General anesthetic can be given as an injection into a vein or muscle, or as inhaled gas.

Regional anesthesia numbs a larger area of the body, such as the leg or arm. This type of anesthesia is typically used for less invasive procedures such as arthroscopic surgery.

Local anesthesia numbs a small area of the body. This type of anesthesia is typically used for procedures that are less invasive and have a shorter recovery time. It also numbs a small area of the body, such as the skin around the incision site. Local anesthetic can be given as an injection or as a cream or ointment.

Each type of anesthesia has its benefits and risks. The doctor will choose the type of anesthesia based on the type of surgery being performed and the individual patient’s health.

Risks of Arthroscopic Surgery

While any surgery has inherent risks, arthroscopic surgery is generally considered to be safe. Risks and complications associated with this type of surgery are typically minor. However, as with any type of surgery, some potential risks and complications can occur in the operating room.

These can include infection, bleeding, blood clots, and nerve or tissue damage. For blood clots, you can purchase a blood thinner medication. Blood thinners work by preventing the formation of clots, or by breaking up existing clots. 

In some rare cases, complications can be more serious, such as knee injuries. Before having any type of surgery, it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits with your orthopedic surgeon. This will help you make an informed decision about whether or not arthroscopic surgery is right for you.

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What to Expect After Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

After your arthroscopic knee surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room where you’ll be closely monitored for any side effects. Most people who undergo arthroscopic knee surgery will be able to leave the hospital the same day.

You will likely experience some pain and swelling, but there are a few things you can do to take care of yourself at home. These are also the activities your orthopedic surgeon would recommend.

  • Take any pain medication as prescribed by your doctor to help manage any pain and discomfort.
  • Apply an ice pack on your knee for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day. This will help reduce swelling.
  • You should elevate your leg when possible to help reduce swelling.
  • Cover the incisions with a plastic bag. It keeps the area clean and protected from dirt and debris. However, be mindful to change the plastic bag regularly and wash the skin around the incisions with soap and water.
  • Avoid putting weight on your leg until your doctor says it is okay. You may need to use crutches or a knee scooter to get around.
  • Wear an ace wrap. An ace wrap helps protect your knee and can also help reduce pain and swelling around your knee cap. 
  • Participate in physical therapy. A physical therapist will help you regain strength and range of motion in your knee. After a few weeks, you should be able to return to your normal activities and may even start to run again.
  • Stay in touch with your orthopedic surgeon. They’ll likely schedule a follow-up appointment to assess your progress.

Mental Health Concerns

It’s normal to feel some anxiety before, during, and even after any open surgery, but most people feel relieved after the procedure is over. This could likely be attributed to the extreme amount of damage within their joint to make open surgery necessary.

However, this isn’t always the case with arthroscopic knee surgery. Some people experience anxiety and even depression in a couple of days following this type of surgery.

To review, anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious at some point in their life, but for some people, anxiety can be a constant and overwhelming problem. It can affect their daily life, work, school, and relationships.

There are many different types of anxiety, but some common symptoms include feeling restless or irritable, having a sense of dread or foreboding, feeling tense and on edge, having difficulty concentrating, and sleeping poorly. 

Depression is a serious medical condition that can have a profound impact on every aspect of a person’s life. Symptoms of depression can include persistent sadness, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy.

Depression can also lead to physical health problems, such as chronic pain and an increased risk for heart disease. While depression is often treated with medication, there are a variety of other treatment options that can be effective, including therapy, exercise, and self-care. 

There are several reasons why you can experience these two disorders.

First, knee problems can be very debilitating, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel during recovery. Some would rationalize that there’s no hope in their recovery.

Second, recovery time for this type of surgery can be fairly long – it may take several weeks or even months to get back to normal activities.

Third, you may begin to overthink and catastrophize who you’ll be after having knee surgery.

Finally, the recovery room can be a bit overwhelming – you may feel like you’re not in control of your situation and that can lead to anxiety.

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Tips to manage anxious and depressive feelings

In the event you begin to experience anxious or depressed moods, there are several things you can do to help manage it and enjoy a full recovery.

  • First, it’s important to get regular exercise and to eat a healthy diet. Both of these things can help to reduce stress levels and promote overall well-being. But always make sure these exercises are recommended by your doctor.
  • Secondly, try to set aside time each day for self-care. This may involve reading, journaling, spending time in nature, re-watching your favorite movie or TV series, or doing something that you enjoy.
  • Do breathing or progressive relaxation exercises. These can help calm the mind and body.
  • Lastly, find time to connect with others. Whether it’s family, friends, or a support group, talking to others who are going through similar experiences can be very helpful. Support systems are essential to the improvement of our lives.

Be consistent with your after-care

Whether you’re following your orthopedist’s instructions or managing your mental health, your level of consistency in these two factors is crucial to your recovery after arthroscopic knee surgery. So, do your best to stick to a schedule and be patient with yourself as you heal. The light at the end of the tunnel is always there; it just might take some time to get there.

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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