Knee Surgery Side Effects and Complications

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There are numerous reasons knee arthroscopy (knee surgery) may be needed and various surgeries that can be performed. Although knee surgery is generally considered safe, there are certain risks and complications associated with this procedure. Knee surgery side effects and complications can vary in severity, as well as form. Serious complications causing permanent damage are generally rare, but can occur. More likely side effects of knee surgery include swelling and pain.

Intra-operative Complications

The risks for intra-operative complications increase with the difficulty of the surgery. The most common complications associated during major knee surgery include artery or major nerve damage. Fractures to the tibia or femur can occur, as well as a tear to the quadriceps tendon or patellar tendon. Other risks include damage to the ligaments on either side of the knee.

Post-operative Complications

The most common post-operative knee surgery side effect is pain, but it can usually be managed with pain medications and subsides quickly. In most cases, the pain after surgery isn’t persistent, but persistent pain can occur without cause. Often, if pain persists after surgery, it’s usually due to a hematoma, especially if blood thinners have been used. Hematomas cause a discoloration to the skin, which often resolve on its own. In severe hematoma cases, blood may collect in the knee joint, in which case a needle is inserted to remove the blood. In rare cases, an additional surgery may be needed.

As with any surgery, infections can occur. Symptoms of an infection include swelling, fever or drainage from the incision site. If an infection should occur, antibiotics are typically prescribed, and the incision is likely to be washed out. Infections are usually treated quickly and very rarely worsen.

Phlebitis can occur from the collection of blood within a vein, causing a clot. Even when blood thinners are used, the clots can still occur. With clots come the risk of pulmonary embolism pulmonary embolism.This occurs when clots travel to the lungs.

Stiffness is a side effect of knee surgery as well. After surgery, it can become difficult to bend or fully straighten the knee. The stiffness is often due to abnormal scar formation in the joint, and, in rare cases, may require an additional surgery to correct. Physical therapy after surgery reduces the risk for stiffness.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy can also occur, which is pain that appears to have no cause. Stiffness and swelling also occur, on occasion. Should reflex sympathetic dystrophy occur, recovery can take months and, in some cases, years. Anxiety is believed to be associated with the cause of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Skin conditions are another possible side effect of knee surgery. It’s not uncommon for the scar to become painful and for patients to experience numbness in the area. In some patient’s the wound may not heal correctly.

References:

“Knee Arthroscopy” https://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/k/arthroscopy#textBlock253321

“Knee Arthroscopy” https://www.drugs.com/enc/knee-arthroscopy.html

“Hip and Knee Surgery” https://medicine.missouri.edu/ortho/Bal/treatingarthritis.html