What Do You Need to Know Before Having Arthroscopic Knee Surgery?

If you have a torn meniscus, Baker's cyst, damaged cartilage, or other soft-tissue knee injury, your doctor may be recommending that you have arthroscopic surgery performed to repair it. This is a type of surgery in which only small incisions are made -- and then small instruments are inserted through the incisions to make the needed repairs to tissues. Arthroscopic surgery can be a little intimidating to first-time patients who are not overly familiar with this type of procedure. So, to ease your nerves, here's an overview of what to expect and what you need to know.

Will you be awake during the procedure?

The answer to this question really depends on the extent of your injury and your doctor's preferences. If you only need a minor repair made, your doctor may just give you a regional anesthetic that numbs you from the waist down. You won't feel a thing as the surgery is performed, but you will be awake. A sedative may be administered -- if needed -- to keep you calm. If you need a more extensive procedure, such as repair of multiple ligament tears, they may put you under general anesthesia (which puts you to sleep) during the procedure.

If your doctor gives you the choice between regional and general anesthesia, remember that although the idea of being completely asleep during surgery may seem appealing, it's usually easier to recover from a regional anesthetic. There is less risk of nausea and vomiting.

What happens during arthroscopic surgery?

Once the anesthetic has taken effect, your doctor will make several small incisions in your knee. A saline solution may be pumped into your joint. This "puffs up" the tissues, which makes it easier for your doctor to manipulate the surgical instruments. A camera is put through one of the incisions. The footage from the camera is projected onto a screen, and your doctor uses this footage to guide the surgical instruments. You may also watch the screen to see your surgery performed if you are awake during the procedure.

Using the surgical instruments, your doctor will cut, tie off, stitch, and otherwise repair the damaged tissues in your knee. This may take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the extent of your injury. When the repairs are complete, the instruments are removed, and your incisions are stitched closed.

How do you prepare for the surgery?

Typically, your doctor will ask you to refrain from eating or drinking for several hours before the procedure. However, if you will only be undergoing regional anesthesia, you may be able to eat right up until the procedure. You may be asked to take a dose or oral pain relievers a few hours before the procedure. This will ensure your pain does not become too intense once the surgery is over and the anesthesia wears off.

Is arthroscopic knee surgery safe?

There are risks associated with any surgery. There is always a chance of infection, excessive bleeding, and blood clot formation within the affected joint. However, these risks are less pronounced with arthroscopic surgery than with standard, open knee surgery -- mostly because the incisions are smaller. To reduce the chances of knee stiffness and injury to your cartilage and ligaments, make sure you seek out a surgeon who has plenty of experience with the specific surgery you'll be undergoing. 

The time it takes you to recover from arthroscopic surgery will vary, depending on the actual procedure you have. For example, if you have your ACL repaired, full rehabilitation will take about 6 months. If you have your meniscus repaired, you can expect recovery to take about 3 months.

To learn more and further prepare for the procedure, contact services like Omaha Orthopedic Clinic & Sports Medicine PC.