Knee Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows doctors to examine tissues inside the knee. During an arthroscopic procedure, a device known as an arthroscope is inserted into a small incision in the knee. Through this tube, a thin fiberoptic light, magnifying lens and tiny video camera are inserted, allowing the doctor to examine the joint in great detail. Arthroscopy may be a diagnostic procedure following a physical examination and imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans or X-rays. It may also be used as a method of treatment to repair small injuries in the knee.

Knee Arthroscopy as Treatment

Relatively minor knee damage is frequently treated using arthroscopic techniques. Most knee damage results from sports injuries or osteoarthritis. During an arthroscopic procedure, the surgeon may be able to treat:

  • Loose bone or cartilage
  • Meniscal tears
  • Torn ligaments
  • Synovitis (swelling of the joint lining)
  • Misalignment of the patella (knee cap)
  • Inflamed tissue

In patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, arthroscopy is sometimes used in the removal of diseased tissue, a process known as debridement.

Benefits of Knee Arthroscopy

Because it is minimally invasive, arthroscopy offers the patient many advantages over traditional, more invasive, surgery. These include:

  • No cutting of muscles or tendons
  • Smaller incisions
  • Less bleeding during surgery
  • Less scarring
  • Shorter recovery time
  • Shorter and more comfortable rehabilitation

Candidates for Knee Arthroscopy

Knee arthroscopy is the ideal procedure for many conditions affecting the knee. Its minimally invasive advantages allow patients to receive fast and simple pain relief, increased range of motion and restored function, while sometimes delaying the need for joint replacement surgery. Despite its many advantages, arthroscopy is not appropriate for every patient. Some patients, especially those with knee problems that are in difficult-to-see areas, may benefit more from conventional surgery.

The Knee Arthroscopy Procedure

Knee arthroscopy is performed on an outpatient basis under local or general anesthesia, depending on the type and severity of the condition, as well as the patient’s personal preference. During the procedure, the surgeon inserts the arthroscope into the knee through a tiny incision. This instrument is used to identify any damage or abnormalities within the knee, or to confirm the diagnosis of a previous imaging exam.

If damaged areas are detected, they can be repaired during the same procedure by inserting surgical instruments into additional small incisions.

Recovery from Knee Arthroscopy

After a knee arthroscopy, patients often experience swelling and pain for several days. These symptoms can be controlled by the usual home remedies: resting and elevating the leg, applying ice and taking over-the-counter painkillers. Patients are encouraged to get up and walk around as soon as possible after the procedure, although crutches or a cane may be needed for some period of time.

Most patients can usually return to work within a week, but will need to undergo physical therapy in order to restore full range of motion to the joint. Most patients can resume light physical activities after a few weeks, although full recovery from knee arthroscopy may take 12 weeks or longer.

Risks of Knee Arthroscopy

While knee arthroscopy is considered safe for most patients, there are certain risks associated with any surgical procedure. These risks include: infection, blood clots, accumulation of blood in the knee, nerve damage or adverse reactions to medications or anesthesia. In the great majority of cases, the knee arthroscopy goes smoothly.

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The Musculoskeletal Center

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Mass General - North Shore

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