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A Guide to Arthroscopy of the Knee

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/18/2011

Are you getting ready to have an arthroscopy of the knee? Here we will explore what the procedure is, recovery, and other important information.

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    Arthroscopy of the knee is a surgical procedure that uses a very small camera to look at the inner structures of the knee. If any repairs are needed, other medical instruments are used to make the necessary repairs. Patients who are gearing up to have this procedure should learn all they can about it to ensure the procedure and recovery go as smoothly as possible.

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    Why is It Performed?

    A variety of knee problems may benefit from this surgical procedure, including:

    • A damaged or torn posterior cruciate ligament or anterior cruciate ligament
    • Misaligned kneecap
    • Removing a Baker's cyst
    • A torn meniscus
    • Damaged or inflamed joint lining
    • Small pieces of cartilage that is broken in the knee joint
    • Small knee bone fractures
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    Preparation

    Once a patient knows he or she is having this surgery, he or she must tell the doctor about all drugs and supplements he or she takes. Two weeks prior to the surgery:

    • Patients may have to stop taking any drugs that make blood clotting more difficult
    • Patients need to refrain from alcohol
    • Patients need to try to stop smoking

    The day of the surgery:

    • Patients will typically not be able to consume any food or drinks for about 12 hours prior to this surgery
    • Any drugs should be taken with just a small sip of water
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    Procedure

    Patients may be completely put to sleep, or just have the area numbed, for an arthroscopy of the knee. Two or three small incisions will be made around the knee and then saline is pumped in. A small camera will be inserted into one of the incisions to help the surgeon see the internal structures. Other medical instruments may also be inserted if needed. The surgeon will then perform all necessary work. Once complete, the saline is drained from the knee and sutures are used to close all incisions.

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    Recovery

    Once the procedure is over, an ACE bandage will be wrapped over the incision. Most patients will be able to go home the same day as their surgery. Recovery is usually fast, but patients may have to use crutches for a while to ensure they heal properly. How long crutches are needed depend on the patient. Pain medication is also often administered.

    When the purpose of the surgery is more complex, recovery may take as long as a year.

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    Possible Risks

    There are a variety of risks with this procedure. The anesthesia has risks, such as breathing problems and allergic reactions to the medicines used. Any surgery carries the risks of infection and bleeding. Other possible risks include:

    • Bleeding into the patient's knee joint
    • Blood clot in the leg
    • Infection in the knee joint
    • Damage to the meniscus, ligaments, or cartilage in the knee
    • Injury to a nerve or blood vessel
    • Knee stiffness
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    Resources

    American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (2011). Knee Arthroscopy. Retrieved on January 10, 2011 from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00299

    Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2011). Patient Guide to Knee Arthroscopy. Retrieved on January 10, 2011 from Johns Hopkins Medicine: http://www.hopkinsortho.org/knee_arthroscopy.html