Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Almost all arthroscopic knee surgery is done on an outpatient basis. Your hospital or surgery center will contact you about the specific details for your surgery, but usually you will be asked to arrive at the hospital an hour or two prior to your surgery.

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. Stop taking anti-inflammatories, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) and Naprosyn® (Aleve®) 10 days before your operation. Tylenol® is fine to take, as recommended on the bottle, for pain as needed.

After arrival, you will be evaluated by a member of the anesthesia team. Arthroscopy can be performed under local, regional, or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia numbs your knee, regional anesthesia numbs you below your waist, and general anesthesia puts you to sleep. The anesthesiologist will help you determine which would be the best for you. Most patients choose a short general anesthetic unless they have medical problems which make this form of anesthesia contraindicated.

Dr. Gambacorta will make a few small incisions in your knee. A sterile solution will be used to fill the knee joint and rinse away any cloudy fluid, providing a clear view of your knee.

Dr. Gambacorta will then insert the arthroscope to properly diagnose your problem, using the TV image to guide the arthroscope. If surgical treatment is needed, the surgeon can use a variety of small surgical instruments (e.g. scissors, clamps, motorized shavers) through another small incision to remove or repair the meniscus.

In addition, Dr. Gambacorta can also remove any loose pieces of cartilage or bone that may be causing symptoms, release scar tissue and also treat some cartilage problems with microfracture surgery. This part of the procedure usually lasts 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

At the conclusion of your surgery, Dr. Gambacorta will close your incisions with sutures and cover them with a bandage. You will be moved to the recovery room. Usually, you will be ready to go home in one or two hours. You should have someone with you to drive you home.

Your Recovery at Home

Recovery from knee arthroscopy is much faster than recovery from traditional open knee surgery. Still, it is important to follow Dr. Gambacorta’s instructions carefully after you return home. You should ask someone to check on you that evening.

Swelling

Keep your leg elevated as much as possible for the first few days after surgery. Apply ice as recommended by Dr. Gambacorta to relieve swelling and pain.

Dressing Care

You will leave the hospital with a dressing covering your knee. You may remove the dressing the day after surgery unless otherwise directed. You may shower, but should avoid directing water at the incisions. Do not soak in a bath, swimming pool or hot tub. After your shower thoroughly pat dry the incision site and apply band aids. Keep your incisions clean and dry. If a brace was applied after surgery, instructions concerning range of motion restrictions and care will be discussed after surgery. Dr. Gambacorta will see you in the office 10 to 14 days after surgery to check your progress, review the surgical findings, and begin your postoperative treatment program.

Bearing Weight

After arthroscopic knee surgery, weight-bearing restrictions and crutch use will vary depending on what procedure was performed. Restrictions may range from:

  • Non weight bearing (no weight on leg)
  • Toe touch weight bearing (gentle touch with ball of foot on ground)
  • Partial weight bearing (25-50% of weight can be safely applied)
  • Weight bearing as tolerated (full weight bearing)

This information will be written down and discussed with you after surgery.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Knee

You should exercise your knee regularly for several weeks following surgery to strengthen the muscles of your leg and knee. Dr. Gambacorta will give you a prescription for physical therapy at your first follow-up appointment.

Medications

Dr. Gambacorta will prescribe pain medication to help relieve discomfort following your surgery. You will need the medication the most during the first two days after surgery, and after that, you should be able to begin to taper off the medication.

Complications

Potential postoperative problems with knee arthroscopy include infection, blood clots, injury to nerve or blood vessel and an accumulation of blood in the knee. These occur infrequently and are typically treatable. There is also a risk of subsequent tear of the meniscus. Strengthening of the knee after surgery and avoidance of high risk activities (including deep squats) are important in reducing this risk for both of your knees.

Warning Signs

Call Dr. Gambacorta, or the orthopedic surgeon on call, immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Persistent warmth or redness around the knee
  • Persistent or increased pain
  • Significant swelling in your knee
  • Increasing pain in your calf muscle
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

Reasonable Expectations After Surgery

Although arthroscopy can be used to treat many problems, you may have some activity limitations even after recovery. The outcome of your surgery will often be determined by the degree of injury or damage found in your knee.

For example, if you damage your knee from jogging and the smooth articular cushion of the weight-bearing portion of the knee has worn away completely, then full recovery may not be possible. You may be advised to find a low-impact alternative form of exercise. An intercollegiate or professional athlete often sustains the same injury as a weekend recreational athlete, but the potential for recovery may be improved by the over-development of knee muscles.

Physical exercise and rehabilitation will play an important role in your final outcome. A formal physical therapy program also may add something to your final result.

A return to intense physical activity should only be done under the direction of your surgeon. It is reasonable to expect that by three to six months you should be able to engage in most of your former physical activities. This will be dependent on how fast your body can heal.

If you are a student, you will likely be able to return to school about one week after your surgery. If your job involves heavy work, such as a construction laborer, you may require more time to return to your job than if you have a sedentary job.

This information is intended for education of the reader about medical conditions and current treatments. It is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis and care provided by your physician or a licensed healthcare provider. If you believe that you, your child, or someone you know has the condition described above, please see your healthcare provider. Do not attempt to treat yourself or anyone else without proper medical attention.