The human knee is a complex compound joint made up of many structures. This includes bones, muscles, cartilage, as well as connective tissues like tendons and major ligaments. When severe inflammation or dysfunction occurs in the knee, understanding the underlying cause usually requires sophisticated diagnostics, which might also lead to minimally invasive surgical procedures to make corrections in the structures of the knee or the surrounding tissues.

One of the most common diagnostic procedures for an internal knee problem is known as arthroscopy.

What Is Knee Arthroscopy?

Knee arthroscopy is used by orthopedists and other joint specialists to diagnose and treat a wide range of knee injuries. It involves the physician inserting a tiny camera through an incision. An image is then displayed on a small screen that shows the inside of your knee. The physician can then use what they see to diagnose the problem inside your knee, without having to perform a more invasive surgical procedure.

This makes knee arthroscopy a very common minimally invasive surgical and diagnostic technique. In fact, most of the time the incision sites are smaller than a keyhole.

If the physician finds a specific structural problem in the knee during the diagnostic phase of the arthroscopy, they can insert tiny tools through another incision. They use the tools to repair, remove, or alter the damaged tissues.

When Is Arthroscopy Recommended?

A physician might recommend knee arthroscopy if you have knee pain that hasn’t improved via nonsurgical treatments. Though there are some conditions like arthritis that cause knee pain, where arthroscopic knee surgery isn’t always an effective treatment strategy.

What Structures Are Diagnosed During Arthroscopy?

Healthcare providers use arthroscopy to examine a wide range of structures and tissues in the knee and surrounding areas. This includes:

  • Cartilage
  • Bones
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • The meniscus
  • Connective tissues
  • Soft tissues inside the knee itself

Knee Arthroscopy Can Serve Many Purposes

Knee arthroscopy can be used to both diagnose as well as treat a wide range of knee issues. In the diagnostic stage, it allows the physician to take a close look at any painful or swollen areas. The camera shows images of damaged soft tissues and bones.

If it’s indicated the arthroscopic procedure can then be used to repair injured soft tissues and bones: Each with its own specially designed tools.

What Conditions Can Be Treated By Knee Arthroscopy?

The versatility of knee arthroscopy as a diagnostic and minimally invasive surgical procedure makes it a preferred option for treating a wide range of conditions that affect the knee. This includes:

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Tendons injuries
  • Ligament strains
  • Bursitis
  • A torn meniscus
  • Patellar tendonitis
  • A partial anterior cruciate ligament tear (ACL)
  • Tears of the medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • Bone chips
  • Minor bone fractures in the knee
  • Removing bone chips and dislodged cartilage
  • Trimming damaged cartilage structures
  • Treating synovium inflammation

In some cases, the diagnostic portion can play a critical role in determining if a more significant surgical procedure needs to be performed.

How Is Knee Arthroscopy Performed?

Before starting knee arthroscopy, make sure to inform your healthcare provider about what medications you’re taking. You may need to stop taking certain medications such as blood thinners before surgery to minimize your bleeding risk. Your healthcare physician will require you to stop eating and drinking the night before your procedure, too.

They start by administering a local anesthetic, or regional anesthetic to numb the area. Then they will clean your leg and secures your knee into a stabilizing device. This ensures that your knee stays in the proper position throughout the arthroscopic procedure.

The surgeon will then make a small incision in your knee before inserting a long metal tool called an arthroscope into the incision. This arthroscope will have a camera on the end. Images from the camera appear on a screen in the operating room.

The surgeon and any other attending specialist will carefully analyze the images on the monitor to diagnose any injuries. If they find a minor issue that can be addressed in that arthroscopic session, the surgeon will need to make other incisions in your knee and inserts tiny tools through them.

This is somewhat common for doing things like repairing torn tissues, shaving off the damaged bone or cartilage structures, or removing inflamed tissues. Each of these tasks has its own special tools.

At the end of the arthroscopy, the physician will close the incisions with stitches or small bandages and wraps your knee with a larger bandage or dressing.

How Long Does Knee Arthroscopy Take?

Most knee arthroscopic diagnostics take around one hour. If the physician finds a structural issue that needs to be addressed, the treatment phase can take longer.

Most knee arthroscopic procedures are performed on an outpatient basis. Though your physician might require an overnight stay for monitoring in some cases.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Knee Arthroscopy?

Most people recover from knee arthroscopy in less than two weeks. Though you might need more time to return to a labor job or athletics. Your physician will advise you on a recovery plan that will likely involve things like:

  • Stay off your feet
  • Not putting weight on your knee for a few days
  • Use of crutches or a walker to help you get around.
  • Elevating the knee to reduce swelling and relieve pain
  • Taking prescribed pain medication
  • Keep your incisions covered
  • Changing bandages as advised
  • Physical Therapy After Knee Arthroscopy

A lot of physicians will refer you to physical therapy a few days after you have started to recover after knee arthroscopy. The timetable will largely be based on whether or not the diagnostic phase was followed by a treatment phase, as well as the invasiveness of the surgical alteration.

Your physical therapy program will be customized to your condition and the treatment plan your physician develops the goal is to help you gain strength and mobility. The physical therapist will show you special exercises to increase flexibility, strengthen the muscles that support your knee and avoid another injury.

You can do many of these stretches and exercise from the comfort of your own home to help optimize your recovery process.