Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

By Lisa Thomson, DC
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taking care of the patient

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery, What Is It?

Arthroscopic knee surgery is a surgical technique that allows the surgeon to see inside the knee to diagnose or treat knee conditions without making a large incision. The surgeon uses a tiny camera called an arthroscope to see inside the knee joint.  Since the tools used to perform arthroscopic knee surgery are small, the surgery is considered minimally invasive. 

When Should It Be Considered?

When knee pain is not responding to conservative treatment, arthroscopic knee surgery might be a good option. Before giving consent to perform the surgery is it important to understand the potential risks.  Some conditions that are commonly treated with arthroscopic knee surgery include:

  • Knee osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis)
  • Meniscus tears
  • Excess fluid in the knee
  • Painful bone or cartilage fragments
  • Infections in the knee joint
  • ACL tears
  • Pain due to patellar (knee cap) issues
  • Pain due to a Baker’s cyst ( a swelling in the back of the knee)

What Do I Need To Know Before I Do It?

While arthroscopic knee surgery is minimally invasive, as with all surgeries, there are potential risks. For this reason a trial of conservative care is recommended before seeking additional, more invasive interventions. Potential risks of arthroscopic knee surgery include excessive bleeding, adverse reactions to anesthesia, infections, knee stiffness, blood clots and damage to tissue in the knee joint. 

What Are The Alternative Treatments?

Many people see great results treating knee pain using conservative care. Conservative care may include things such as:

  • Weight loss and dietary changes
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Injury specific exercises
  • PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections
  • Rest
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Steroid injections
  • Manual or instrument assisted soft tissue treatments
  • Acupuncture
  • Supplementation (i.e. glucosamine, anti-inflammatories)

When there is chronic pain in the knee it may also be beneficial to seek treatment from a biomechanical specialist. Sometimes faulty movement patterns can lead to pain in the knee joint due to abnormal wear and tear on the joints. Some practitioners (i.e. some chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, etc.) have done additional training in identifying and treating faulty movement patterns.  If there is a faulty movement pattern present and it is not addressed pain may persist.

What Should I Expect?

Arthroscopic knee surgery often times takes less than an hour to perform.  Since the tools the surgeon uses are small scarring is usually minimal. Recovery after arthroscopic knee surgery is not the same for everyone.  Many people are able to return to regular, unrestricted activities within a few weeks after the surgery.  Pain and swelling are often present for a few days. Physical therapy and/or at home exercises will be important to regain strength and mobility in the knee joint following the surgery.  Continuing with conservative treatments will increase the chances of the surgery being a success.     

  1. Cook G Movement: Functional Movement Systems. Screening – Assessment – Corrective Strategies. Lotus Publishing; 2011
  2. A Controlled Trial of Arthroscopic Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee, N Engl J Med 2002; 347:81-88
  3. Vaughn DW Isolated knee pain: A case report highlighting regional interdependence. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008;38(10):616‐623.
  4. Cook EG Burton L Hoogenboom BJ The use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function‐Part 1. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2006;1(2):62‐72.

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