Arthroscopy is the examination of the
inside of a joint, using a special illuminating instrument
inserted through a small incision or 'portal'. The incisions
are usually less than one centimetre in length. The
arthroscope is slender and has a fibre-optic light source
and a magnifying lens attached. Tiny instruments that
are capable of cutting or shaving material from within
the joint may be inserted through other small incisions,
if necessary. A tiny camera mounted within the arthroscope
transmits the images of the joint interior to a television
Diagnosis by arthroscope
A common use of the arthroscope is the examination
and surgical repair of the knee joint. Some conditions
that may be diagnosed by arthroscope include:
- Torn cartilage
- Damaged joint lining
- Torn ligament
- Damage to the knee cap
Before surgery, the area to be examined
is shaved and washed with a special surgical scrub to
reduce the possibility of infection. The arthroscopy
is usually performed under local anaesthetic, which
is injected into the area surrounding the joint to be
examined. If further surgery is to be performed, a spinal
or general anaesthetic may be used. If you are having
a general anaesthetic, you have 'nil by mouth' - no
food or drink - for a period of time beforehand. After
you are given anaesthesia, the surgeon will make a small
incision, and then pass the arthroscope through the
skin into the joint. A special camera sends the images
to a television monitor. If necessary, instruments that
can cut or shave are inserted into the joint through
other small incisions.
Immediately after the arthroscopy
- Health care workers will monitor your vital signs.
- You will be offered pain medication.
- You can drink fluids straight away, as long as you
don't feel sick.
- Your limb may be raised for a period of time.
- Ice packs may be used to reduce swelling.
- If no further procedure is performed, you should
be able to go home the same day.
- Artery damage
- Excessive bleeding
- Allergic reaction to the anaesthesia
- Nerve damage
- Numbness at the incision sites
- Ongoing pain in the calf and foot
Taking care of yourself at home
- You may need to use crutches for a while to take
the pressure off your knee joint.
- Raise the affected leg as often as you can for the
first couple of days.
- Gently and regularly flex the knee joint, as soon
as you feel able.
- A cold pack applied to the joint may help to reduce
swelling and discomfort.
- It may be important to keep your weight in check.
Follow all dietary recommendations.
- Avoid vigorous activity.
- It may take around one week before you are able
to drive your car again.
- Most people can resume their normal activities around
three weeks after the procedure, although this depends
on individual factors.
- You may need to avoid sports and vigorous physical
activity for two to three months.
- Physiotherapy, including special strengthening exercises,
may be needed.
Another form of treatment
Alternatives to knee arthroscopy include:
- Reduce your level of physical activity.
- Medications to help reduce the swelling.
- Wear a supportive knee brace or bandage.
- Open knee surgery.