What is a knee arthroscopy?

An arthroscopy is sometimes called a "knee scope" or "keyhole surgery". It is performed under an anaesthetic and involves inserting a small camera and instruments into the knee to perform surgery inside the joint.

Who needs a knee arthroscopy?

There are many operations that can be performed with a knee arthroscopy. Tears of the cartilage can be removed or repaired, roughened areas of the joint surface can be smoothed and ligaments can be reconstructed. If you have any of these problems, you might be suitable for arthroscopic surgery.

How is a knee arthroscopy performed?

An arthroscopy is performed under a general or spinal anaesthetic. 2 small incisions (less than 1cm long) are made at the front of the knee to create portals. A small telescope is inserted into the knee to provide a view of the inside of the joint. Various instruments are passed through the other portal to perform the surgery. An arthroscopy takes about 20 minutes to perform. Bigger operations, such as ligament reconstructions take about 90 minutes.

How long will I be in hospital for?

While a knee arthroscopy only takes about 30 minutes to do you will need to come into hospital 1-2 hours early to be checked in and sort out your paperwork. After the operation you will need to be observed for a couple of hours to ensure that you have recovered from the anaesthetic

What happens when I leave hospital?

You will need someone to pick you up from the hospital and stay with you on the night of your surgery. You will probably feel a bit sleepy and might need some pain killers. 

You will be given written instructions on how to look after your wound, what warning signs to look out for and what to do with your dressings. You will also be given a sheet of exercises to get you started after your operation. A physiotherapist may visit you while you are in hospital to teach you these exercises.

You should keep the wounds dry until you are seen by your specialist.

Will I need crutches or a brace?

You will be given crutches when you leave hospital. These are designed to make walking less painful but if you don't need to use them you don't have to. Most of the time, you will not need a brace. Sometimes if you have damaged ligaments or a repair of your meniscus has been performed you may need to wear a brace. If this is the case, you will be informed before you leave the hospital.

How long is the recovery?

There are many factors at play here. The quickest recovery is if you are young fit and healthy, have good muscle strength and only have a small operation. If you are older, have poor muscles, have significant arthritis in the knee or have a long or extensive operation your recovery will be slower. After a knee scope, the muscles of the thigh do not function very well and they can become weak very quickly. This, in turn, makes the knee feel sore and unstable and can prolong swelling. You will be given some physiotherapy exercises and it is important to perform them twice a day for a few weeks until your muscle function has returned. You should also take regular pain killers and ice the knee for the first week or so.

For a simple medial meniscal tear, you should be able to return to a desk job after a week, be able to spend a few hours on your feet after 2 weeks and be able to return to gentle exercise or heavy work after about 4 weeks. Lateral meniscal tears may take twice as long to recover from. It is common to have some mild pain and swelling for a few weeks after your surgery.