Arthroscopic knee surgery: What you need to know

In the past, orthopedic surgeons made long incisions to open up the knee and fix the damage, whether it was a meniscus tear, ACL tear or other damage. Now we can do a knee surgery through small incisions with a scope.

Arthroscopic knee surgeries are some of the most common knee surgeries in orthopedics. In fact, four million knee arthroscopy surgeries are performed each year.

This article offers an explanation of these knee procedures. I discuss the types of injuries that can be treated arthroscopically, and I briefly cover what patients can expect after arthroscopic knee surgery.

Arthroscopic knee surgery

Knee arthroscopy is a less invasive approach to damage within the joint compared to traditional open surgery. The surgeon makes two or three small incisions on the front of the knee and looks inside with a small scope. The surgeon can see most structures within the knee. He can then use small instruments and implants placed through the incisions to treat many injuries.

Arthroscopic knee surgery

Injuries that can be treated arthroscopically

Many damaged structures can be treated arthroscopically. Meniscus tears, anterior cruciate ligament tears (ACL injuries), posterior cruciate ligament tears (PCL tears), articular cartilage damage and more can be addressed through these procedures.

The types of knee surgeries that cannot be performed arthroscopically

Unfortunately some of the ligaments that stabilize the knee lie outside the capsular lining of the knee joint. Some surgeries still require open incisions, such as medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) repairs, multi-ligament knee injuries, patellar instability, and more. Many fractures around the knee, surgeries to realign the bones more anatomically, and joint replacements are also open surgeries.

Recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery

Generally arthroscopic surgeries are less invasive than open ones. The incisions usually are much smaller, usually 1 cm or less. These surgeries still involve difficult recoveries, though. Some procedures still cause significant pain and require long periods after surgery where patients must wear a brace, use crutches or limit weight on the leg.

Brace from ACL knee surgery

What patients can expect after knee surgery

It is important to discuss postoperative instructions with your surgeon, because all surgical procedures are different. Generally, you can get the small incisions wet in a shower within a few days. Often the knee swells from the work done to treat the injured structure or from the fluid pumped through the knee. The swelling can be uncomfortable. You can use ice or a cold therapy device to try to decrease swelling of the knee and leg. Also, physical therapy can be helpful to regain motion and strength after these surgeries.

All procedures have different postoperative requirements even if they are performed arthroscopically. It is important for each patient to ask his surgeon about the nature of his specific procedure and what to expect after it.