What is a knee arthroscopy?
Knee arthroscopy, also known as keyhole surgery, can diagnose and treat problems relating to the knee joint.
A small incision will be made to allow your surgeon to insert a tiny camera, called an arthroscope, into your knee. Your surgeon will then be able to see inside your knee, which is helpful in diagnosing or treating a number of knee problems. A knee arthroscopy can be used to diagnose or treat knee injuries such as:
- Torn anterior or posterior cruciate ligaments
- Torn meniscus (cartilage between bones in the knee)
- Displaced patella
- Fracture of the knee bones
- Swollen synovium (lining in the joint)
What are the benefits of a knee arthroscopy?
One of the main benefits of an arthroscopy is the consultant can establish what the condition is and, if possible, treat the problem at the same time. Another benefit is the speed of recovery. As the knee doesn’t need to be completely opened, it’s much quicker and easier to get back on your feet following an arthroscopy. There will also be less scarring as the incision is so small.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Not everyone who suffers from knee pain will need an arthroscopy. Your consultant may be able to diagnose your problem from a physical examination or by using an MRI scan.
Physiotherapy may be suggested as an alternative to surgery as it can help ease knee pain and strengthen muscle weakness. Orthotic devices may also be recommended to help with knee alignment and provide pain relief. Lastly, if you are overweight, you may find that losing weight can significantly reduce pain and increase mobility.
Ultimately, you and your consultant will discuss whether or not you need a knee arthroscopy and you can decide together what best suits your individual needs.
What happens during a knee arthroscopy?
A knee arthroscopy can be performed with various types of anaesthetics, usually general anaesthetic. Your consultant anaesthetist will recommend what type of anaesthetic is most suitable for you.
During surgery, one or more incisions will be made and saline will be pumped around to expand the knee and increase visibility. This will also wash out any loose material caused by wear and tear in the joint. Your surgeon will then insert the arthroscope through one of the incisions and will look around the knee to diagnose the problem. It’s often possible to trim or repair torn cartilage without needing to make a larger incision.
Once the surgery has finished, the surgeon will remove the arthroscope, drain the saline from the joint and close up the incisions. An arthroscopy typically takes half an hour to 45 minutes and, as the surgery isn’t too invasive, you can usually go home on the same day or the day after.
What are the risks of the procedure?
Any surgical intervention has potential risks, however this is rare and any possible complications will be discussed prior to your surgery.
Risks of surgery can include:
- Excessive bleeding
- Infection of the surgical wound
- Blood clotting
- Chest infection
- Difficulty passing urine
- Heart attack or stroke
Specific complications of a knee arthroscopy include:
- Developing a lump under the wound
- Infection in the knee joint
- Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of the knee (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
It’s important to remember that complications are rare and the benefits usually outweigh the risk. However, your consultant surgeon will discuss the potential risks with you.
How soon will I recover?
Everyone is different and some people will recover faster than others. Recovery depends on multiple factors, such as your physical health and the specific procedure you’ve had. However, most people make a good recovery and can return to normal activities in a few weeks.
At first, you might find that walking is uncomfortable and you may need to use a walking aid. It’s also likely that your knee will be swollen, so an icepack should be applied to help reduce swelling.
It’s important to keep your leg elevated. You’ll also need to keep your knee and dressing clean and dry, and will have to change the dressing yourself.
Strenuous activity, such as impact sports and heavy lifting, may need to be avoided for six weeks or several months.
Following surgery, your physiotherapist will show you specific exercises to help with your recovery. These exercises will help to strengthen your knee, improve your mobility and get you back to daily life as quickly as possible.