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Knee arthroscopy


Knee arthroscopy is surgery to treat problems inside your knee joint. This surgery uses a tiny camera to look inside your knee. Small cuts are made to insert the camera and small surgical tools into your knee for the procedure.

Reasons to do knee arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is used to treat many different knee problems. Knee arthroscopy is not helpful to treat knee arthritis if that is the only problem.

Common reasons to do knee arthroscopy are to:

  • Remove small pieces of bone or cartilage that may be floating around inside your knee joint and causing pain.
  • Repair or remove a torn meniscus. Meniscus is cartilage that cushions the space between the bones in the knee. Surgery is done to repair or remove it.
  • Repair or reconstruct a torn or damaged ligament (anterior cruciate ligament, ACL, or posterior cruciate ligament, PCL).

Less common reasons to do knee arthroscopy are to:

  • Remove a Baker's cyst. A swelling behind the knee that is filled with fluid. Sometimes this occurs when there is inflammation (soreness and pain) from other causes, such as arthritis or meniscus tears.
  • Treat some fractures of the knee bones.
  • Removed inflamed or damaged lining of the knee joint. This lining is called the synovium.
  • Treat misalignment of the kneecap (patella). Misalignment puts the kneecap out of position.
  • Repair damaged cartilage in the knee.

What happens during knee arthroscopy?

During arthroscopy of the knee, the surgeon uses a small camera to look inside your knee.

  • An arthroscope is made up of a small tube, a lens, and a light source. It is inserted into the knee through a small incision or cut. The surgeon will look for damage or disease inside your knee joint through the arthroscope.
  • Other small surgery tools may also be inserted through 1 or 2 other small surgical cuts. This allows the surgeon to treat or repair certain problems, if needed.
  • Using these tools, your surgeon can remove extra pieces of bone that are loose in your knee joint or make repairs to cartilage, ligaments, or other tissues that may be damaged.
  • Spinal or epidural anesthesia or general anesthesia will most likely be used. You may also receive medicine to help you relax.

What happens after knee arthroscopy?

After surgery, you will have an elastic bandage on your knee over the incision dressing. Most people go home the same day they have surgery.

Recovery from simple procedures such as removing a torn meniscus or cartilage, a Baker's cyst, or synovium is usually fast. Most people can recover quickly because of the small incisions.

  • You may need to use crutches for a short while so that you do not put weight on your knee and to control pain. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medicine.
  • Your doctor will give you an exercise program to follow. You may be referred to physical therapy to begin an exercise program.
  • Many patients have a full recovery and remain active after these surgeries.

Recovering from more complicated procedures will take longer.

  • When any structure in your knee is repaired or rebuilt, you may need to walk with crutches or a knee brace for several weeks.
  • You will be referred to physical therapy to begin an exercise program.
  • Full recovery may take several months to a year.

If you already have arthritis in your knee, you will still have symptoms of arthritis after surgery that repaired other damage in your knee. Arthroscopic surgeries alone, in general, cannot treat arthritic conditions well.

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Review Date: 8/9/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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