What Patients Should Know About the Recovery Process After Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Noyes Knee Institute Signature

Published On

Jan 24, 2017




Arthroscopic surgery of the knee is one of the most important advances in orthopedic medicine. The use of miniaturized, highly sophisticated equipment helps make knee surgery a less cumbersome process for both the patient and the medical team. As a result, recovery times are often quicker with fewer complications.

However, it is important to keep in mind that arthroscopic surgery is still an invasive procedure that requires a carefully structured recover process. If patients don’t take recovery seriously, they can delay healing or experience medical complications. Below is more information on the recovery process from arthroscopic knee surgery and what patients should know.

Immediately Following Surgery

After surgery is completed and the patient is sutured and bandaged, the first place where healing begins is in the recovery area of the surgical facility. In the recovery suite, the medical team will monitor vital signs and help the patient awaken from their anesthesia. In cases where a local anesthetic is used, the immediate recovery process is less involved, but staff will still be on hand to see that things are progressing smoothly.

Once the patient is stable, and all vital signs are confirmed as normal, he or she will most likely be released from the facility with instructions for care and follow-up. To prevent complications, it is critical for these instructions to be followed exactly and for patients to make all required follow-up visits.

In some situations, such as when patients are older or have other complicating conditions, they may be held for an extended period of time in the facility. Most patients will be held no longer than 24 hours after the surgery, but an extended time in the facility provides the medical team with an opportunity to evaluate the patient before release.

At Home Shortly After Release

Once the patient arrives at home, he or she should focus on healing and avoid any strenuous activity that could undo the surgeon’s work. However, it is also important for patients to keep mobile during recovery. Without proper movement, knee surgery patients can develop a condition known as thrombophlebitis, or deep clotting, which can result in a life-threatening pulmonary embolism in rare instances.

Movement of the knee prevents the formation of such clots, keeps muscle from wasting away, and inhibits other negative side-effects caused by immobility. However, patients should take care not to twist affected knees, and they should avoid any movement involving hard, jarring impacts of the feet to the ground. If any particular movement brings on excessive pain or swelling, the patient should immediately discontinue it.

Since some pain is to be expected following knee arthroscopic surgery, patients should follow their doctor’s guidance regarding what type of pain-fighting measures are appropriate. A variety of painkillers may be prescribed, including those from the non-steroidal class (NSAIDs) as well as opiates for severe pain.

However, non-medicinal means of reducing pain are important; for example, patients can find relief by using ice packs frequently for the first few days after surgery and by keeping their affected leg elevated whenever resting.

Long-Term Recovery and Physical Therapy

Once the initial period of recuperation comes to a close, the next phase of recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery is to restore normal function to the knee. This involves a gradual introduction of physical challenges that help the muscles, ligaments and tendons inside the knee fully heal and strengthen.

Depending on the patient’s personal characteristics, the process of recovery in this phase may be mostly self-guided or directed by a physical therapist. Complicating factors, such as advanced age, arthritis, or a high degree of surgical repair, may all contribute to a patient’s need to be under the direct care of a therapist for weeks or even months. Regardless, patients will need to pace their recovery by increasing the level of challenges without causing injury by attempting too much, too quickly.