Knee Arthroscopy

Knee Arthroscopy

Article by John Miller

What is a Knee Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive operation to repair a damaged joint. The surgeon examines the joint with an arthroscope (joint camera) while making repairs through a small incision.

You may have a knee arthroscopy to investigate or repair knee joint problems such as meniscus tears, some ligament repairs and joint injuries (e.g. mild arthritis). Compared with open surgery, arthroscopy has a faster recovery time.

What to Expect Post-Arthroscopy

Initially, you will experience some swelling and pain in the knee for a few days post-operatively. You will most likely be given a prescription for pain medication and an anti-inflammatory drug to help alleviate these symptoms.

If you need pain relief, you may be able to 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 or doctor for advice.

Ice packs applied for 20 minutes every 2 to 4 hours will assist your pain and swelling. You should apply a cold compress such as ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to help reduce swelling and bruising. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin, as it can damage your skin.

If possible, keep your foot and knee elevated above your heart to allow gravity to assist your swelling reduction.

Depending on your specific surgery, most post-arthroscopic patients are permitted to weight-bear. It is important to avoid aggravating your knee by too much weight-bearing or walking during the initial healing phase.

Your physiotherapist or surgeon will guide you. Follow your surgeon’s or physiotherapist’s advice about driving. It would be best if you didn’t drive until you’re confident that you could perform an emergency stop without discomfort. This is usually about one to three weeks after your operation.

Your recovery time will depend on what, if any, treatment your surgeon performs on your knee joint. You should be able to resume your usual activities after six to eight weeks, depending on the severity of your knee problems and your level of fitness.

What are the Risks?

Knee arthroscopy is commonly performed and generally safe. However, you need to be aware of the possible side effects and the risk of complications of this procedure.

Fortunately, most people aren’t affected. The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, a wound infection, excessive bleeding or developing a blood clot, usually in a vein in the leg (DVT).

Arthroscopy complications can include:

  • accidental damage to the inside of your joint
  • infection
  • loss of feeling in the skin over your knee
  • bleeding into your joint
  • the surgery may not be successful, or it may have to be repeated.

Why is Post-Arthroscopy Physiotherapy Important?

After undergoing knee arthroscopy, it is important to begin exercising your knee immediately to restore strength and a full range of motion.

Initial exercises should be non-weight bearing in nature and should focus on gentle strengthening of the muscles surrounding the knee and increasing joint range of motion.

You should expect to feel a gentle stretch while performing your beginning exercises, but you should not experience any pain. Any activity that causes significant discomfort should be stopped immediately. It is also a good idea to ice and elevates your leg after performing these exercises to decrease any increase in swelling.

Your physiotherapist aims to safely return you to the best function possible for your knee in the shortest time. They will guide you through their professional expertise to maximise your surgical outcome. If you have any questions, please ask your physiotherapist.

What are the Goals of Physiotherapy Treatment?

The general aims of your post-operative physiotherapy include the following:

  • Control pain, swelling, and hemarthrosis (bleeding into your knee joint).
  • Regain normal knee joint range of motion.
  • Progress your function from non-weight bear to full-weight bear.
  • Activate your Vastus Medialis muscle (inner quads) & correct any patella (kneecap) malalignment to avoid future patellofemoral joint syndrome or arthritis.
  • Regain a normal walking pattern (gait).
  • Regain normal lower extremity strength. Regain full lower limb muscle length.
  • Regain normal proprioception, balance, and coordination for daily activities.
  • Restore any work or sport-specific function, e.g. squatting, kneeling, running or jumping/landing.
  • Achieve the maximum level of function based on the orthopaedic and your goals.

If you have any questions, please ask your knee surgeon or physiotherapist.

Common Causes - Knee Pain

Knee pain can have many origins from local injury, referred pain, biomechanical issues and systemic issues. While knee pain can appear simple to the untrained eye, a thorough assessment is often required to ascertain the origin of your symptoms. The good news is that once a definitive diagnosis is determined, most knee pain quickly resolves with the correct treatment and rehabilitation.

Knee Ligament Injuries

Knee Meniscus Injuries

Kneecap Pain

Knee Arthritis

Knee Tendon Injuries

Muscle Injuries

Knee Bursitis

Children’s Knee Conditions

Other Knee-Related Conditions

Knee Surgery

Knee FAQs

For specific information regarding your knee pain, please seek the assistance of a healthcare professional with a particular interest in knee condition, such as your knee physiotherapist.

Acute Injury Signs

Acute Injury Management.

Here are some warning signs that you have an injury. While some injuries are immediately evident, others can creep up slowly and progressively get worse. If you don't pay attention to both types of injuries, chronic problems can develop.

For detailed information on specific injuries, check out the injury by body part section.

Don't Ignore these Injury Warning Signs

Joint Pain

Joint pain, particularly in the knee, ankle, elbow, and wrist joints, should never be ignored. Because these joints are not covered by muscle, pain here is rarely of muscular origin. Joint pain that lasts more than 48 hours requires a professional diagnosis.

Tenderness

If you can elicit pain at a specific point in a bone, muscle, or joint, you may have a significant injury by pressing your finger into it. If the same spot on the other side of the body does not produce the same pain, you should probably see your health professional.  

Swelling

Nearly all sports or musculoskeletal injuries cause swelling. Swelling is usually quite obvious and can be seen, but occasionally you may feel as though something is swollen or "full" even though it looks normal. Swelling usually goes along with pain, redness and heat.

Reduced Range of Motion

If the swelling isn't obvious, you can usually find it by checking for a reduced range of motion in a joint. If there is significant swelling within a joint, you will lose range of motion. Compare one side of the body with the other to identify major differences. If there are any, you probably have an injury that needs attention.

Weakness

Compare sides for weakness by performing the same task. One way to tell is to lift the same weight with the right and left sides and look at the result. Or try to place body weight on one leg and then the other. A difference in your ability to support your weight is another suggestion of an injury that requires attention.

Immediate Injury Treatment: Step-by-Step Guidelines

  • Stop the activity immediately.
  • Wrap the injured part in a compression bandage.
  • Apply ice to the injured part (use a bag of crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables).
  • Elevate the injured part to reduce swelling.
  • Consult your health practitioner for a proper diagnosis of any serious injury.
  • Rehabilitate your injury under professional guidance.
  • Seek a second opinion if you are not improving.