What Is Knee Arthroscopy Procedure?

by | Jan 24, 2022 | Arthroscopic, Knee

Woman doctor examining patient's knee - What Is Knee Arthroscopy Procedure?

Arthroscopy, also known as keyhole surgery, is an operation where your surgeon uses an arthroscope to look inside your joint and cut away damaged or torn cartilage. The arthroscope is inserted into the knee joint through a small incision made in the knee, usually about the size of two dimes. It’s attached to special surgical instruments to loosen and remove the damaged tissue from inside the joint. The surgeon will sew up the incision and remove the arthroscope from your leg when finished.

What is knee arthroscopy?

Knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat conditions of the knee. It involves inserting an arthroscope, or telescope, into your knee joint to see inside. An arthroscope is passed through a small incision in your knee joint that was created by inserting a needle-like device through your skin. This needle acts as a guide for placing and advancing an arthroscope into place.
This is an outpatient procedure performed at hospitals, medical centers, surgery centers, and ambulatory surgery facilities. It’s often done on an emergency basis to treat injuries from sports or recreational activities like football and soccer. Still, it can also be used for treating degenerative conditions of your knee joint.

Benefits of knee arthroscopy

For patients suffering from common knee disorders, arthroscopic knee surgery can provide relief without resorting to a full-scope procedure. Arthroscopic procedures are generally used to treat arthritis, meniscus tears, and ligament damage. Recovery time following arthroscopic surgery is much shorter than traditional knee surgery, which requires a long period of recovery and rehabilitation. Arthroscopic surgery aims to remove damaged tissue or repair damaged areas without disturbing healthy tissues surrounding it.
To perform arthroscopic surgery, doctors use a small camera on a long flexible tube called an arthroscope that allows them to see inside your knee joint. Surgeons can then insert other instruments through smaller incisions to repair or remove damaged cartilage and treat inflammation. These procedures aim to relieve pain, stabilize and protect injured areas while minimizing trauma to surrounding tissue. 

Knee arthroscopy procedureRecovery after knee arthroscopy

Recovery time after knee arthroscopy depends on a few factors. Patients can generally walk and move about immediately after surgery but may need crutches for several days to weeks. After recovery, physical therapy is usually recommended, typically starting around two weeks post-op and continuing for several weeks. Many patients report being pain-free within a week or two of their procedure, but complete recovery can take up to a few months in some cases.
Patients usually return to work about two weeks after their procedure but may need to refrain from heavy lifting or other strenuous activity for a couple of months. Most knee arthroscopy patients report significant improvement in mobility, pain, and function after surgery, and initial swelling goes down.
It is also important to consider that not all knee arthroscopies are alike, so recovery time may vary from person to person. Doctors will generally work with patients to provide a specific timeline of what to expect before, during, and after surgery.
Because patients do not feel much pain after an arthroscopy, they often don’t realize how affected by medications. Doctors usually prescribe pain medication when necessary, but it’s up to each patient whether or not they want to take it.

Best candidates for the procedure

Knee arthroscopy is commonly performed on those suffering from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, patellofemoral syndrome, and chondromalacia patellae. Additionally, healthy individuals may choose to undergo knee arthroscopy if they would like to remove or repair damaged tissue in their knee without going through invasive surgery. This is particularly useful for professional athletes looking to return as quickly as possible.
If you have frequent dislocations of your patellar tendon, arthroscopic surgery may repair that tendon and help you avoid future injuries. Individuals who need to remove a meniscus tear often choose knee arthroscopy instead of open surgery to maintain their ability to return to physical activity in a shorter amount of time. Before having any surgery on their knees, patients should discuss all their options with both orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to make an informed decision about how best to proceed with treatment.


Often, people may have concerns about what is involved in knee arthroscopy. There will be instructions specific to your knee arthroscopy that your doctor will discuss with you.
Usually, these instructions include:

  • No strenuous activity for at least a week before surgery
  • Not eating or drinking anything past midnight before surgery
  • Arriving at least an hour before your scheduled surgery time so you can fill out paperwork 
  • An intravenous line can be inserted into one of your veins to administer medication during surgery

The procedure itself is relatively short and relatively painless. Once you are in surgery, your doctor will examine your knee joint and make necessary repairs or adjustments. Your surgeon may also trim loose cartilage if that’s part of their plan to repair your knee. There will be a small incision in your thigh through which instruments can be inserted into the area to aid with these tasks.
With the procedure being routine, there isn’t much to worry about. Your doctor will go over all risks and answer any concerns you may have before your procedure.


Although knee arthroscopy is considered a safe procedure, it does have potential complications. The most common complication associated with knee arthroscopy is bleeding, resulting in a hematoma. This occurs when blood vessels inside your joint tear during surgery and form a pool of blood that can impair joint function if not removed promptly. Patients taking blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), are at an increased risk for hematoma because these medications increase their risk of bleeding.
In some cases, a clot can form over a hematoma. This can result in blood flow being cut off to part of your knee joint, which can damage or destroy surrounding cartilage and other soft tissues. Although most clots dissolve on their own, surgery may be required to remove any persistent clots. 


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