Recovering from an Arthroscopy
Signs, symptoms and function to be expected following surgery:
- Pain is quite common, most often in the area where you had pain before surgery, in the soft tissues below the knee cap, over the athroscopy wounds and occasionally the whole knee. The pain settles usually within two to three weeks, but may take upwards of six weeks.
- Swelling in the whole knee up to six weeks.
- Tenderness around the wound sites up to four weeks.
- Muscle wasting in the thigh, improves as swelling and pain decrease.
- Difficulty kneeling due to swelling and tenderness up to six weeks.
- Knee feeling a little unstable/ unreliable to start with and weak on descending stairs and slopes.
Recovering from an arthroscopy
How long it takes to recover after an arthroscopy can vary, depending on the type of surgery you had, your general health and the type of work that you do. Some people feel better after a few days, while others may not be back to normal for several months.
After the operation
Most people who have an arthroscopy are able to leave hospital either on the day of the surgery or the following morning. Before leaving hospital, you may have an appointment with a physiotherapist to discuss exercises for you to do at home. Depending on the type of procedure you had, you may need crutches to support and protect the joint while you recover.
It's likely that you'll feel tired and light-headed after having a general anaesthetic, so you'll need to ask a responsible adult to take you home and to stay with you for the first 24 hours following surgery. Most people will recover from the effects of the anaesthetic within 48 hours.
Make sure you elevate the joint and apply ice packs to help with swelling when you get home, if advised to do so. You should also carry out any joint exercises that have been recommended for you.
Any dressings will need to be kept as dry as possible, so you'll need to cover them with a plastic bag when having a bath or shower. If your dressings do get wet or fall off, they will need to be replaced. The dressings can usually be removed after 5 to 10 days.
Your wounds should start to heal within a few days. If non-dissolvable stiches were used to close them, these will need to be removed after a week or two. This will usually be done by a practice nurse at your local GP surgery.
You'll normally be asked to attend a follow-up appointment a few weeks after the operation to discuss the results of the surgery, your recovery, and any additional treatment you may require.
The amount of swelling you have following an arthroscopy will vary from person to person. Swelling is to be expected and in the majority of people this is not concerning and will settle with time. Swelling may increase over the first few days before starting to settle. It may take between a week and 12 weeks for this to reduce significantly. The knee joint capsule covers a large area and you may well experience swelling above and to the sides of your knee cap. You should only be concerned about the swelling in the knee if it becomes hot and red, causes significant pain, or you have discoloured discharge from the wounds.
A picture of a knee one week following an arthroscopy (Right knee).
Returning to normal activities
Your surgeon or care team will advise you how long it's likely to take to fully recover and what activities you should avoid until you're feeling better.
You'll probably need at least two weeks off work, although this varies from person to person – some need more, while others need less. This will largely depend on whether your job involves strenuous activity that could damage the joint. For a desk job without the need to walk long distances, two weeks is a realistic amount of time. A job involving more strenuous work (for example a car mechanic) may require anything between four and twelve weeks to recover enough to allow normal activities.
You'll be able to drive again once you're able to do so without experiencing any pain and you can safely perform an emergency stop. This may not be for a few weeks or several months after surgery. Your surgeon/physiotherapist/GP can give you more specific advice.
They can advise you on how long it will be before you can undertake strenuous physical activities, such as heavy lifting and sport. For many people, this will be around six weeks after surgery, but in some cases it may not be for several months.
When to seek medical advice
You should contact your GP if you experience:
- a high temperature (fever)
- severe or increasing pain
- severe or increasing redness or swelling
- discoloured or foul-smelling discharge from your wounds
- numbness or tingling
These problems could be a sign of a complication of surgery, such as an infection or nerve damage.