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How does the patient recover after arthroscopy?
Immediately after arthroscopic surgery, patients may be sleepy, especially if a general anesthetic or sedation has been used. Medications are administered to control pain if needed. If a local anesthetic has been used, there may be no pain at all immediately after the procedure. If a spinal or regional anesthetic has been used, there can be numbness and weakness of the extremity that gradually resolves before the patient is sent home.
The surgical incisions from arthroscopy are small. They usually consist of several 5 mm (1/4 inch) incisions on either side of the joint, which are bandaged after surgery. The bandage may absorb some of the tissue drainage from these wound sites. The bandage should only be removed under the guidance of the treating surgeon or nurse. It should otherwise be kept as dry as possible during the first few days after surgery. Patients should notify their physician's office immediately if they develop unusual joint pain, swelling, redness or warmth, or if they injure the involved joint.
For several days after arthroscopy, patients will generally be asked to rest and elevate the joint while applying ice packs to minimize pain and swelling. After surgery, an exercise program is gradually started that strengthens the muscles surrounding the joint and prevents scarring (contracture) of surrounding soft tissues. The goal is to recover stability, range of motion, and strength of the joint rapidly and safely, while preventing the build-up of scar tissue. This program is an essential part of the recovery process for an optimal outcome of this procedure.
Over the years, higher quality fiber-optic equipment has allowed the development of miniature arthroscopes. This has allowed the examination of smaller joints with arthroscopy. Arthroscopy has become an integral tool for orthopedic surgery and its role will continue to expand as further improvement in arthroscopes and arthroscopic instruments continues.
Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopedic Surgery
"Surgical therapy of osteoarthritis"