Arthroscopic Knee Surgery: When to Get a Knee Scope
Knee arthroscopy — sometimes called knee scoping — is a minimally invasive medical procedure used on the knee joint to diagnose and treat knee conditions or injuries. It’s performed using an arthroscope, which is a tiny surgical instrument with a light and camera at the end that is inserted into the knee.
A doctor may recommend knee scoping if a patient has a painful condition that is not responding to a nonsurgical treatment such as medication, cortisone injection or physical therapy. In particular, knee arthroscopy is often successful in helping reduce or eliminate pain associated with cartilage damage or soft tissue damage.
Many doctors and patients prefer knee scoping to other procedures. That’s because the orthopedic knee surgeon only needs to make a tiny incision to use the arthroscope. There is usually less knee pain, less joint stiffness and easier recovery than with other procedures.
When Knee Arthroscopy Is Performed
Knee arthroscopy can be used when making or confirming a diagnosis and performing surgery:
- Making a Diagnosis: If a patient has knee pain, a doctor may order an X-ray or other imaging tests. However, the provider might need more information before moving forward with a treatment like surgery. In this instance, the doctor can use knee scoping for a diagnosis or to confirm treatment. To do this, a doctor makes a single small incision, then inserts the tiny arthroscope into the knee, and the images can be viewed on a video screen. An example of how this might be used is when a surgeon wants to view a meniscus tear to assess the extent of the damage.
- Performing Surgery: If arthroscopy is being used for surgery, small incisions are made at different points around the knee joint, in addition to the opening that’s made for the arthroscope. These additional openings allow the doctor to insert tiny surgical tools into the area as needed. Using the images from the arthroscope as a guide, the surgeon can repair torn ligaments, remove a torn or damaged meniscus, remove loose bone fragments or perform other treatments.
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Unless a patient has another medical issue, knee arthroscopy may performed in an outpatient setting, so the patient will not need to stay overnight at a hospital.
Knee surgery using an arthroscope can take 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the extent of the damage. When using knee arthroscopy for diagnosis only, the time could be even shorter.
Before knee arthroscopy, a patient will have some type of anesthesia. The doctor and patient will determine whether local (numbing knee only), regional (numbing from waist down) or general anesthesia (putting patient to sleep) is best.
After Knee Surgery
After the procedure, the surgeon will close the incision. Sometimes, only small strips of adhesive tape are needed. Other times, one or two small stitches will be required.
Next, the patient rests in a recovery room for several hours. At home, the patient will follow the doctor’s instructions, which may include taking certain medications, elevating the knee, getting plenty of rest and eventually, exercising. Usually, a patient can return to light activity within a few weeks, although every patient is different.
Learn more about knee arthroscopy from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.