This factsheet is for people who are planning to have a knee arthroscopy, or who would like information about it.
Knee arthroscopy is a type of minimally invasive surgery, used to look inside and treat the knee joint.
You will meet our surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.
How knee arthroscopy is carried out
About knee arthroscopy
You may have knee arthroscopy to investigate problems such as inflammation or injury, or to repair damaged tissue and cartilage. It’s also used to take small tissue samples (biopsies), which can help to diagnose problems such as infection.
Knee arthroscopy is performed through small cuts in your skin, using a special telescope (arthroscope) attached to a video camera. Compared with open surgery, arthroscopy has a faster recovery time.
What are the alternatives?
Not everyone who has a knee problem needs to have an arthroscopy. Our doctor may diagnose your knee problem using physical examination, an X-ray or an MRI scan. An MRI scan uses magnets and radiowaves to produce images of the inside of your body. Some problems can be treated using physiotherapy and medicines.
Preparing for a knee arthroscopy
The operation is usually done as a day case under general anaesthesia. This means you will be asleep during the procedure.
If you’re having general anaesthesia, you will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand.
Our surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure.
You may be asked to wear a compression stocking on the unaffected leg to help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs.
What happens during a knee arthroscopy
An arthroscopy can take from 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on how much work our surgeon needs to do inside your knee joint. Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, our surgeon will make small cuts in the skin around your knee joint. He or she will pump sterile fluid into your joint to help produce a clearer picture and then insert the arthroscope.
Our surgeon will examine your knee joint by looking at images sent by the arthroscope to a monitor. If necessary, he or she can insert instruments to repair damage or remove material that interferes with movement or causes pain in your knee.
Afterwards, our surgeon will drain the fluid out and close the cuts with stitches or adhesive strips. Then he or she will wrap a dressing and a bandage around your knee.
What to expect afterwards
You will need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. It may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your knee. Take special care not to bump or knock the area.
You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready.
Your nurse will give you some advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.
The length of time your dissolvable stitches will take to disappear depends on what type you have. However, for this procedure they should usually disappear in about six weeks.
Recovering from knee arthroscopy
You may be wearing compression stockings on your unaffected leg to help maintain circulation.
You will have a dressing and an elasticated bandage over your knee joint. These apply pressure to assist with healing. You need to keep your knee clean and dry for about one to two weeks. You should use waterproof plasters over your healing wounds when you take a shower and don’t soak your knee in the bath until the cuts are fully healed.
Try to keep your leg raised on a chair or footstool when you’re resting. 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.
Your recovery time will depend on what, if any, treatment our 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.