What's an arthroscopy?

26 October 2019

It is said that the average person takes around 7,500 steps each day. If maintained until the ripe age of 80 years, you'll have walked about 216,262,500 steps, which equates to around 110,000 miles in a lifetime. Although knee complaints can be caused by a fall or sporting injury, it’s not surprising general ‘wear and tear’ of the knee joint is also a common cause for pain and stiffness. So I caught up with Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr David Calder to find out what’s involved with knee arthroscopy and how it can help local patients.

Mr Calder, what is a knee arthroscopy? “The word ‘arthroscopy’ simply means to look into a joint – ‘arthro’ meaning joint and ‘scopy’ meaning to view. Arthroscopy is a laparoscopic (keyhole) operation that is used to look inside and treat joints, especially the knee joint.”

Why are arthroscopies performed? “An arthroscopy may be recommended for patients who have knee problems such as persistent joint pain, swelling or stiffness. Whilst historically arthroscopy was used to assess joint problems, nowadays a diagnosis would usually be established prior to arthroscopy with the help of x-rays and MRI scans.

“An arthroscopy can also be used to assess the level of joint damage resulting from an injury or to treat a range of joint problems, such as repair damaged cartilage, remove fragments of loose bone or to treat conditions such as localised osteoarthritis.”

How is the procedure carried out? “A knee arthroscopy is usually performed under general anaesthetic, which means the patient will be asleep during the procedure. Then two small incisions (about 5mm long) are made in the skin around the knee joint.

The first incision is used to insert the arthroscope (a narrow, tube-like telescope) to enable the surgeon to view the joint by looking at pictures it sends to a video screen, and to pump sterile fluid into the joint to help produce a clear picture. The second incision is used to insert other instruments to probe structures, repair any damage, or to remove material that interferes with movement or causes pain in the knee. Afterwards, the fluid is drained and the incisions are closed with stitches or adhesive strips. A dressing and a bandage is wrapped around the knee. The procedure may take anything between 15 minutes to an hour.”

“Following the procedure, patients are likely to have some pain, stiffness and swelling around the joint, which may last a few weeks. Gentle knee exercises will help reduce stiffness and discomfort.

“Arthroscopy is a commonly performed and is generally a safe surgical procedure. For most patients, the benefits in terms of improved symptoms, or from having a clear diagnosis of a joint problem, are greater than the disadvantages. However, all surgery carries an element of risk.”

What are the risks? “Whilst rare, the specific complications of knee arthroscopy could include accidental damage to the inside of the joint or a loss of feeling in the skin over the knee. Uncommonly, it’s also possible to develop a blood clot in the veins of one of your legs (Deep Vein Thrombosis/DVT) or an infection. The chance of complications depends on the exact type of operation performed and other factors such as the patients’ general health.”

Mr David Calder concludes: “Treatment is available for patients suffering from stiff and painful joints, all of which are offered at Spire Norwich Hospital. The best advice is to visit your GP initially. Your GP will be able to refer you to a surgeon who specialises in knee conditions and knee surgery who can offer a broad range of treatments therefore tailoring them to your specific needs.”

If you’re suffering with any knee pain or stiffness see your family doctor in the first instance. Or call 01603 255 614 to make a private appointment with Mr David Calder. Further details regarding Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr David Calder can be found on his consultant profile here.


All surgery carries an element of risk and the content of this page is provided for general information only.  It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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