What is Arthroscopy?
Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive operation that involves the inspection and surgical treatment of the knee joint with a small telescope and specialised arthroscopy instruments. The image is projected onto a television monitor via a fibreoptic cable.
Arthroscopic surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure in a hospital or day surgery unit.
Conditions treated by Arthroscopy
- Meniscal injury or tear is the most common. The meniscus is very important to the normal function of the knee. Meniscal tears cause pain, swelling and sometimes catching and locking in the knee. The torn, non functioning meniscal fragment is resected or in some cases repaired using a suture to restore normal function. Every effort is made to preserve as much of the meniscus as possible.
- Articular cartilage is the smooth lining of the joint. Damage to the articular cartilage by injury or wear and tear can cause pain and swelling. Cartilage can also break away from the bone causing loose bodies in the knee. Acute cartilage injuries can be debrided and stabilised and loose bodies removed, but arthroscopy cannot cure arthritis.
- Assessment for suitability for other surgical procedures e.g. partial knee replacement or cartilage transplantation.
- Arthritic knees can occasionally be helped by arthroscopy, especially if there are symptomatic meniscal tears or recent mechanical symptoms caused by loose bodies. Discomfort and pain caused by these can be helped but arthroscopy does not cure arthritis.
- Cruciate ligament reconstruction. Arthroscopy is an integral part of this procedure.
- Cartilage biopsy if you are a candidate for cartilage transplant. Or tissue biopsy to diagnose conditions, such as PVNS.
Preparing for your surgery:
It is useful to do some quadriceps strengthening exercises prior to your operation. These exercises are designed to maintain muscle strength to the quadriceps group, which is on the front of your thigh. It is very important to also continue these exercises post-operatively.
Anticoagulant medication such as Plavix, Cartia and Asprin, should also be ceased 7 days prior to surgery. Some other anticoagulants such as Warfarin should be ceased with advice from your treating physician. All vitamins and supplements should be ceased 10 days prior to surgery. All regular prescribed medication should be continued.
Arthroscopic surgery is performed under general anaesthetic. General anaesthesia for arthroscopic surgery is extremely safe. You will be able to discuss any issues relating to the anaesthetic with the anaesthetist prior to surgery.
- Skin preparation
Your knee and leg should be free of any skin infection or irritation. Please contact my nurse if you have any cuts or sores on your knee or anywhere else on your body. Use an antibacterial wash on your knee and leg daily for a week prior to surgery if possible. (eg Phisohex)
You will be admitted to hospital on the day of your operation. The hospital will call you in the afternoon prior to your procedure with your fasting details and admission time.
The anaesthetist will see you before your operation to discuss your anaesthetic. He will also give you some advice regarding post operative medication and pain management.
At the end of the procedure I inject the knee with long acting local anaesthetic to help keep pain to a minimum. Wounds are covered with small waterproof dressings and the leg bandaged with a compression bandage.
You will be taken to the recovery ward where you are monitored prior to being returned to the day surgery ward.
I will visit you in the ward before discharge. I will discuss the operative findings with you. You will be shown some exercises to do at home. Most people do not require crutches.
Day surgery staff will allow you to leave the hospital when you are comfortable and mobile. You should be accompanied home by a relative or friend. You may not drive yourself for at least 24 hours.
Recovery from this operation involves reducing the swelling, strengthening the muscles and reducing pain.
Please read and follow the Post-Operative instructions.
- Please note that it is normal for the knee to be sore and swollen following arthroscopy. Activity should be increased gradually. Avoid prolonged walking or standing for the first few days. You should avoid squatting or kneeling or attempting to bend your knee beyond 90 degrees if the knee is painful or swollen. It is safe to walk but do not spend too much time on your feet.
- You may remove the bandage at home on the day following surgery.
- Leave the waterproof dressings which are under the bandage intact until your post-operative review. These dressings allow for showering. Do not soak in a bath or swim. Remove and replace dressings only if they become wet or lift off. It is normal for some blood to collect under these dressings. This is safe. There may also be some bruising around the knee.
- To reduce pain and swelling use Ibuprofen (Nurofen) taken regularly. Take Panadol or Panadeine Forte for pain. Over activity or standing for long periods can increase the swelling and pain in the knee. Try and rest as much as possible in the first few days.
- Keep the leg elevated as much as possible after the operation. Apply an ice pack to the knee for 20 minutes at a time to reduce swelling and pain. When applying ice packs, ensure that you place a wet cloth between your skin and the ice pack to prevent an ice burn.
- Strengthening your quadriceps is important in restoring function to the knee. Do the straight leg raising exercises as shown on the post operative exercise sheet. Do 10 straight leg raises every hour whilst awake. It is safe to bend the knee up to the point of mild discomfort. Avoid deep squats.
- I will see you in my rooms in the week following your surgery.
Report any unusual or worrying symptoms, e.g. excessive swelling, calf pain, redness or persistent elevated temperature.
Please contact me or my nurse at the office or through the hospital where you had your surgery if you are concerned.
General advice following surgery
Driving – You can resume driving only when your knee is comfortable and you have no restrictions in operating your vehicle.
Travel – Long distance travel for long by plane should be avoided if possible for 2 weeks. This decreases any risk of blood clots forming in the leg (deep venous thrombosis).
Post-operative Appointment – I will see you in the office in the week following surgery. Please make an appointment with my secretary.
Return to work – I will provide you with a medical certificate at your first post-operative visit if required. You may return to work as your knee function improves well enough for you to do your particular job. This does not mean that all discomfort must have resolved, as there will be some tenderness around the incision sites. It is normal for there to be some discomfort in the knee for several weeks after arthroscopic surgery.
The results from arthroscopic surgery depend on the arthroscopic findings and the underlying condition. In cases of a torn meniscus with no other damage to the joint, the results are usually excellent.
Patients who are found to have damage to the articular cartilage which lines the joint, are likely to continue to experience symptoms. This is due to the underlying nature of the condition. The results in this situation may be less favourable than when arthroscopic surgery is done for meniscal tears or other reasons.
Arthroscopic surgery in the presence of osteoarthritis can give good results if there are meniscal tears or unstable joint linings with pieces of articular cartilage breaking off into the joint, but the results are less predictable than in non-arthritic patients. Patients with osteoarthritis are unlikely to gain full relief of symptoms following arthroscopic surgery, as the underlying condition is not changed, although many patients gain enough benefit to enable them to put off further interventions such as knee replacement. Arthroscopy can occasionally cause a temporary increase in the symptoms of arthritis.
Risks and complications
Complications following knee arthroscopy are unusual, but surgical and medical complications can occur and may prolong or limit your recovery. The decision to proceed with surgery is made because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Complications can include
- Allergic reactions to medications.
- Haemarthrosis or bleeding into the joint. Treated with rest, elevation of the leg and ice and occasionally sterile aspiration.
- Infection, superficial or deep, requiring antibiotics. Infection following arthroscopy is very rare.
- Blood Clots (DVT)are very uncommon due to early mobilisation.
- Damage to nerves or blood vessels. Wound or scar irritation. Some sensitivity or small areas of numbness may occur at the wound site. This usually decreases over time and will not affect the function of your knee.
- Muscle weakness following your injury and surgery. This should improve over time with physiotherapy and exercise.
- Ongoing pain can occur, especially in an arthritic knee. Some knees may require further investigation.
Please feel free to discuss any queries with me or my nurse.
Arthroscopy of the knee is a safe and effective procedure. The results of arthroscopic surgery are usually better than open forms of surgery. Complications are uncommon. Remember that every knee is unique, and recovery time and the results of the procedure reflect that uniqueness. Not all knees can be made better as there may be some damage that cannot be reversed
Associate Professor Craig Waller
Watch world champion power lifter Leo Vangelovski nail some impossible weights 4 weeks after his right knee arthroscopy.