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Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Recovery

Arthroscopic surgery is often preferred over open surgeries, because this procedure involves minimal scarring due to smaller incisions, thereby shortening the recovery period. However, like every surgery, this one too, sets some restrictions on physical activities and movements until the patient has completely recovered.
Suketu Mehta
Last Updated: May 18, 2018
Arthroscopy is carried out with the help of small incisions in the skin to fix injuries caused to the tissues, ligaments, cartilage or bone in the joint. This bloodless surgical procedure is carried out with the help of an arthroscope, which is a small instrument that has a camera with a light and which is attached to a television monitor to study the status of the joint, along with other incisions in the knee. Arthroscopic knee surgeries are conducted for various purposes ranging from minor procedures that are associated with osteoarthritis, to realignment of dislocated knee and even ligament grafting surgeries.
Compared to open surgeries, arthroscopic surgery has reduced chances of infection and anesthesia-related complications. This results in quicker recovery period, which increases the rate of surgical success. Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon since 23 years, in his book - The Patient's Guide to Orthopedic Surgery has mentioned that over 80% of all knee surgeries, carried out every year, are performed arthroscopically.
Taking Care During Recovery Period
This surgery usually lasts for about an hour and the patient is discharged once he/she starts feeling comfortable and is able to walk with crutches. Recovery period will depend upon number of factors like the cause of damage to the knee, age, fitness levels, type of treatment, etc. Though the recovery period for arthroscopic knee surgeries is shorter when compared to open surgeries, there are precautions the patient needs to take that are vital for the recovery and to avoid any complications.
✔ Dressing
The nurse or surgeon will dress the knee to cover the stitches, and will explain how and when the dressing is to be changed. It is vital to keep the knee dry and a sponge bath is advised for a few days after the surgery. Water contact is to be avoided until the incisions are completely healed. The surgeon will inform about subsequent visits to check for progress.
✔ Swelling
Swelling around the knee area is common after the surgery. The patient can be relieved of pain by massaging the area around the knee with ice and taking prescribed medication. It will help if the leg is kept in an elevated position and ice is applied for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours on the inflamed area during the initial days after surgery. However, make sure that the operated part on the knee does not get wet. Also, consuming medicines as prescribed by the surgeon will help subside the pain. The swelling may last for a week or two, nonetheless it will start subsiding after 48 hours of the surgery.
✔ Exercises
Performing strengthening exercises suggested by the physiotherapist will help regain full strength and motion of the knee. Depending upon the rate of recovery, the physiotherapist will alter the exercise routine. Besides these exercises, it is best not to indulge in heavy physical activities like swimming, jogging or walking until complete recovery or otherwise advised by the doctor.
✔ Rest
Post operation, care should be taken that the leg is kept in an elevated position so that the knee is not subjected to stress. The patient may have to bear little strain caused due to exercising, but until the operated knee heals completely, standing for a long time, using the stairs, driving, or even walking without support should be completely avoided. Giving the knee its due time for rest and recovery will result in long-term benefits.
Situations that Need Immediate Medical Attention
Recovery after an arthroscopic knee surgery can be achieved with almost no complications. However, there might arise some situations during the recovery period when the patient may have to seek medical help as soon as possible, such as:
• Consistently increasing pain in or around the knee area, even after medication.
• Soreness or bleeding from and around the incision areas during recovery.
• Fever beyond 100.4° F and chills.
• Consistent swelling and pain in the calf muscles. Though pain in the calf muscle may occur because you tend to walk differently after being operated, prolonged pain should not be taken lightly.
Besides, it is important that the patient does not miss any of the follow-up appointments with the doctor so that the progress is monitored well and necessary and timely changes in the treatment can be suggested.
FAQs regarding Recovery
How soon can I get back to my normal activities?
✔ Getting back to normal activities the way you would prior to the operation will take a considerable amount of time, which could be anywhere between a couple of days to 6-8 weeks or more. It will depend upon the reason for surgery (ligament tear, joint pain, soreness, etc), level of your physical strength, type of your work/activity (desk job, traveling job, sports activities, etc). Strictly avoid rushing back to your activities including gym, swimming, sports or even prolonged sitting at work until a complete evaluation of your recovery is done.
When can I take a shower?
✔ You can start taking a shower 2 days after surgery. However, you have to keep in mind that the operated knee should not get wet until the sutures are completely healed. You can rest you leg on a stool or on a higher surface which will prevent your knee from getting wet.
When can I start driving?
✔ Do not get impatient with mobility restrictions post-surgery. It may take 2-3 days or even 7-10 days or more to get back to driving, depending upon how fast your knee shows progress. Before hitting the road, check your driving ability in an empty area when you feel that your knee is strong enough. If you face difficulty in applying brakes, or throttling quickly, limit yourself to less crowded places or avoid driving for few more days, after which you can check for the strength in your knee again.
Will I need to use crutches?
✔ Crutches may be needed for the initial 2-3 days, only if the doctor advises. Else, you should learn to take support for steadiness so that you can maintain your balance when you move.
Do I need to take pain medication?
✔ Strictly follow medication dosage and timings that the doctor prescribes for pain relief post-surgery. In case you suffer from abnormal pain in or near the knee area, do not take any other medication without consulting your doctor.
Disclaimer: This site is for information purpose only, and should not be considered as medical advice. The efficacy will vary from individual to individual. Kindly consult your doctor for any kind of recovery process to be followed.