A Useful Guide for Arthroscopic Surgery

John V. Tiberi';

By John V. Tiberi

Posted on February 15th, 2022 in News, Myths & Tips

As a surgical procedure whose aim is to examine, diagnose, and treat joint problems, arthroscopy is minimally invasive, and the patient can return home the same day. It can be carried out on any joint, including the shoulder, knee, hip, elbow, ankle, or wrist.

Every year, over 1.77 million arthroscopic procedures are performed throughout America.

There are numerous benefits of undergoing arthroscopy, such as tiny incisions, reduced postoperative discomfort and pain, faster healing time, and lower infection rate.

Depending on how complex your problem is, the duration of arthroscopy ranges between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Patients with the following joint conditions might be good candidates for arthroscopy. However, they always require a thorough overall health examination by one or multiple medical specialists, as some people will have to undergo traditional surgery due to various impediments.

  • rotator cuff tendon tears
  • impingement syndrome
  • recurrent dislocations in the shoulder
  • meniscal tears
  • chondromalacia 
  • anterior cruciate ligament tears

How Is Arthroscopy Performed?

While each arthroscopic procedure varies from patient to patient, as each person has unique joint problems, you will first receive anesthesia before undergoing arthroscopy, which can be general, local, or spinal. After it takes effect and you can no longer feel pain, a small incision is made in your skin above your problematic joint, and the arthroscope, which is a thing metallic tube with a light source and a camera attached, is inserted through it. Additional incisions might be necessary to insert other small grasping, cutting, or probing medical instruments.

Everything happening during the arthroscopy is transmitted to a screen so that the surgeon and the entire medical team can clearly see and determine the next step. After the injury is repaired, the surgeon closes the incisions with sutures and places sterile dressings over them to prevent infection and promote healing. By virtue of the innovative technology behind arthroscopy, the small puncture wounds created by the arthroscope and other tools will take only several days to a week to heal. The vast majority of arthroscopic surgeries are outpatient.

Recovery Following Arthroscopy

The recovery period for arthroscopic surgery depends on the repaired joint and on the complexity of your injury or condition. Nevertheless, most patients require 6 weeks to achieve full recovery. If the surgeon repaired damaged tissue, recovery might take longer. You may also have to limit your activity until the joint strengthens and movement is back to normal if you had knee arthroscopy. Furthermore, depending on the problematic joint, you may also have to be in a physical rehabilitation program. Since the knee joint is the most common joint treated with arthroscopic surgery, the following are some useful advice and information about recovery:

  • get enough sleep every night and rest whenever you feel tired
  • use pillows to raise your leg above the level of your heart
  • when you are allowed, try to walk every day, increasing the distance day by day
  • people who have a desk job can resume working a few days following the surgery, but if they lift things, stand, or walk a lot at work, it could take as long as 2 months before they can return
  • you can safely take a shower 2-3 days after surgery, and you should carefully clean the incisions with regular soap and water
  • as for driving, your doctor is the only professional who can tell you when you can safely do it
  • you should drink a lot of liquids and eat as usual unless your stomach is upset, in which case you should try bland, low-fat foods such as plain rice, toast, and yogurt
  • you may need a fiber supplement to avoid constipation, which is common after surgery
  • if you had been taking medication regularly before arthroscopy for a health condition, talk with your doctor about when you can start using it again, as it might interfere with the healing process
  • to alleviate swelling and pain, put ice on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time

What Are the Risks of Undergoing Arthroscopy?

Undergoing arthroscopic surgery entails a series of risks, like any other surgery. Nonetheless, because it is minimally invasive, the risks are lower than those implied by a traditional, open procedure. The following are the most common risks associated with arthroscopic surgery, particularly with that performed on the knee joint:

  • Infection: The risk of infection from arthroscopic knee surgery is extremely small, ranging from 0.009% to 0.4%. A more serious postoperative complication is infection occurring deep within the joint. However, this happens even more rarely than infection on the site of the surgery.
  • Nerve damage: The surgeon usually makes three small incisions around the front of the knee to perform arthroscopy. Although there is a risk of nerve damage from the procedure itself, the anterior approach greatly reduces it, as the major nerves are located in the back of the knee. Unfortunately, nerve damage might occur during meniscus suturing, which is why choosing a competent and experienced surgeon is paramount.
  • Blood clots: The risk of developing blood clots after undergoing knee arthroscopy increases in patients who have blood disorders that make them susceptible to it. Nevertheless, for patients with no blood disorders, the risk is very low. To be on the safe side, anticoagulant drugs or blood thinners will be prescribed to prevent blood clot formation.
  • Heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure: People who have pre-existing medical conditions such as heart and kidney disease might develop serious, even fatal complications. Inflammation occurs in the body after surgery, which is necessary for healing, but it can cause cardiac and kidney complications. This is why patients need to undergo a thorough health assessment before arthroscopy.

Regardless of these risks, which are minimal if your overall health is comprehensively analyzed before you undergo arthroscopy, if your doctor advised you to have the procedure, you should go ahead, as it will benefit you tremendously. If you experience continuous pain in a joint, locking, swelling, or dislocation, arthroscopy can substantially help and even make these symptoms and problems disappear altogether. The only thing you should invest time in is finding a good, experienced orthopedic surgeon who specializes in arthroscopy. This will help you avoid the aforementioned risks.