Knee Arthroscopy: Long-Term Care

Knee arthroscopy will entail several weeks or months of recovery in order to return to everyday activities. It is normal to have pain after the surgery, and restrictions will be put in place until your knee has healed adequately and acquired enough strength.

physical therapist checking a patient's knee for pain
 wutwhanfoto / Getty images

Benefits of Surgery

Knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure to repair or remove damaged structures in the knee joint that can be causing knee pain and limiting knee range of motion.

This can include repairing a torn ligament or meniscus, or removing irritating structures such as cartilage, an entire or portion of a meniscus, synovial membrane, and loose bodies within the knee joint.

Arthroscopic knee surgeries including procedures like meniscus repairs, meniscectomies, cartilage debridement, synovial membrane removal, and autologous chondrocyte implantation are typically performed after trialing three months of nonsurgical treatment with little relief of symptoms.

For anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tears, physical therapy and pain management methods may be trialed for up to three months before considering surgery unless there is significant joint instability, presence of a meniscus or other ligament tear, or a need to return to sports that require cutting and pivoting.

Surgical intervention combined with several months of physical therapy, given appropriate time for adequate rehabilitation, is highly successful for returning people back to sports and recreational activities.

Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits to decrease inflammation will promote an ideal healing environment to facilitate your recovery from surgery. These include:

  • Get at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. It is best to limit light exposure and screen time one to two hours before bed and keep the temperature of your bedroom cool to promote deep sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet of whole, natural foods including meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and starches while limiting processed foods, sugar, refined grains like wheat and corn, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, and food additives.
  • Manage a healthy weight and lean body mass through diet and exercise.
  • Stay adequately hydrated so that your urine is light-colored and translucent. Dark yellow, opaque, cloudy urine is an indication of dehydration.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and learning how to cope with and manage stress. Staying connected to others and having friends and family for social support can have a significant impact on recovery and quality of life.

Possible Future Surgeries

Future surgeries may be more likely depending on the type of arthroscopic surgery or the condition it was done to treat.

Microfracture surgery to repair damaged cartilage in the knee joint has variable outcomes. In microfracture surgery, the bones in the knee joint are drilled into to increase blood flow and stimulate new production of cartilage.

The ends of the tibia and femur where the bones join to form the knee joint are covered in a specific type of cartilage called hyaline cartilage. However, the new cartilage that forms is often fibrocartilage.

Fibrocartilage is denser and not able to withstand the same force demands as hyaline cartilage. As a result, it provides less cushioning and pressure relief in the knee and has a higher risk of breaking down.

Microfracture surgery is also less effective for managing knee pain and other symptoms in individuals who are older, overweight, or have large areas of cartilage damage. Symptom relief is often not long term, with the return of symptoms being highly likely after one or two years as the new cartilage wears away, requiring further intervention for pain management and/or cartilage repair.

Knee arthroscopy is also not an effective option for knee osteoarthritis, which is best treated with weight loss, physical therapy, medication, and cortisone injections. If pain relief still persists for several months after trying nonsurgical options, knee arthroscopy may be considered to improve pain and function.

But because osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of cartilage in the knee joint, knee arthroscopy for osteoarthritis often results in minimal successful outcomes. If osteoarthritis in the knee has progressed beyond a point where standing, walking, and going up and down stairs causes significant pain, a knee replacement is usually the only effective surgical intervention that yields lasting results for managing pain.

As degenerative changes of the cartilage of your knee continue with aging, symptoms may return. Always discuss the risks and benefits of undergoing knee arthroscopy with your doctor to determine if it is an appropriate option for you depending on whether your knee pain and other symptoms are related to damaged ligaments, menisci, cartilage, or other structures in the knee joint.

Lifestyle Adjustments

During the initial weeks of recovery from knee arthroscopy, you should avoid certain activities and movements that will place increased stress on your knee. Your knee will need several weeks to heal and stabilize after the operation. To avoid injury and promote recovery, you should abide by the following recommendations:

  • No driving or operating a vehicle of any kind until cleared by your surgeon.
  • Maintain appropriate weight-bearing precautions, if applicable, for the type of surgery you had performed. You may need to use crutches or another assistive device to help with your balance in the beginning stages of recovery.
  • If given a brace, wear it at all times except for showering and performing exercises that do not include standing. Your doctor will inform you when you can stop wearing a brace

While certain activities should be avoided, it is also very important that you limit how much time you spend sitting or lying in bed each day. Staying active is crucial for recovery and preventing deconditioning from a sedentary lifestyle, especially after having surgery. Remember to:

  • Avoid staying in one position for too long, which includes laying down, sitting, or standing.
  • Try to get up and walk every one to two hours during the day to stay active and prevent blood clots. You can gradually increase the amount of time or distance you walk as you progress with recovery.
  • Do not push yourself to do too much too soon. Overexerting yourself can increase your pain and delay your recovery.
  • Attend all of your regularly scheduled physical therapy sessions as recommended by your doctor and follow up with a home exercise program prescribed by your physical therapist.

A Word From Verywell

Recovery from knee arthroscopy can vary in length, from several weeks to several months to a year, depending on the type of surgical procedure performed. It is crucial that you follow appropriate precautions after your operation, including limiting weight-bearing on the operated leg if needed, and only progress to higher impact activities, exercising, sports, and recreational activities when cleared by your doctor and physical therapist.

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Article Sources
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  1. eviCore healthcare. Clinical guidelines: Knee surgery—arthroscopic and open procedures. Updated February 14, 2020.

  2. Arthritis Foundation. Arthroscopy Not Recommended for Arthritis.

  3. Mansfield Orthopaedics. Knee arthroscopy.