Knee arthroscopy surgery

Keyhole surgery allows your doctor to check and treat knee problems.

We offer advanced keyhole surgery techniques for the investigation and treatment of knee pain and joint injuries. This includes meniscal (meniscus) tear, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, cartilage damage, ligament repair and osteoarthritis.

Sometimes also called

  • Meniscal tear surgery
  • Cruciate ligament surgery

At a glance

  • Typical hospital stay
    Same-day discharge or 1 night

  • Procedure duration
    30 minutes to 2 hours

  • Type of anaesthetic
    General, spinal or local

  • Available to self-pay?

  • Covered by health insurance?

Why Spire?

  • Fast access to treatment when you need it
  • Internationally and nationally renowned consultants
  • Clear, inclusive pricing
  • 98% of our patients are likely to recommend us to their family and friends

What is knee arthroscopy?

Knee arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery, which uses a thin, flexible, telescopic instrument called an arthroscope to investigate – and sometimes treat – knee problems. The arthroscope has a light and a tiny video camera on the end, which sends images of the inside of your knee joint to a screen for your orthopaedic surgeon to view.

Your doctor may suggest an arthroscopy if you have the following problems that can’t be diagnosed using a scan or X-ray:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Inflammation
  • Knee injury
  • Difficulty moving your knee, especially if this restricts everyday activities and affects your quality of life
  • Baker's cyst

Arthroscopy is often used to:

  • Assess damage caused by a sports injury or wear and tear due to osteoarthritis
  • Repair damaged ligaments (anterior and posterior) or torn meniscus cartilage
  • Drain excess fluid from around your joint
  • Remove fragments of loose bone or cartilage
  • Reposition the patella (kneecap)
  • Take biopsies
  • Investigate abnormalities in the synovium – tissue lining the inside of the joints

The advantages of arthroscopy when compared to conventional open knee surgery include:

  • Less pain after the operation
  • Faster wound healing
  • Lower risks involved – such as infection
  • Likely to go home the same day
  • Quicker recovery time 

Find your nearest Spire hospital

Almost all our hospitals offer knee arthroscopy and have teams of orthopaedic (bone and muscle) surgeons who specialise in this procedure.

Spire Nottingham Hospital

How knee arthroscopy works

The surgery is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic when you’re unconscious. Sometimes you may have a spinal or epidural anaesthetic, when you’re either sedated or awake but can’t feel anything below your waist.

Once your anaesthetic has taken effect, your orthopaedic surgeon will:

  • Clean the skin over your knee before making one or more small incisions
  • Insert sterile fluid into your knee to expand your joint, if necessary, so it’s easier to view
  • Pass the arthroscope into your knee joint – the image from the camera will be viewed on a screen so the joint can be examined closely
  • Repair any torn cartilage or damaged knee ligaments, or remove any loose bone fragments or scar tissue, using small surgical instruments inserted through other small incisions; fragments are sometimes flushed out with sterile fluid
  • Take samples from the lining of your knee joint if there’s any inflammation present
  • Drain away any fluid that’s built up in your knee due to injury or arthritis, along with any fluid injected during the procedure
  • Remove the arthroscope, stitch or tape the incisions and then apply a sterile dressing over the wound

After your procedure

Either on the same day or in a follow-up appointment, your consultant will explain to you what’s been found and whether any other treatment is recommended.

Knee arthroscopy surgery

Watch how a knee arthroscopy surgery takes place

Play video
View transcript of this video Hide video transcript

This video explains what happens during knee arthroscopy surgery. Arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery to investigate and sometimes treat knee problems such as sport injuries or the removal of bone fragments. The knee joint is made up of three bones, the femur, also called the thigh bone.

The tibia or shin bone, and the patella or kneecap.

We will look at how keyhole surgery is used to remove bone fragment. The surgery is carried out under a general anaesthetic or an epidural injection where you're awake, but can't feel anything below the waist. The orthopaedic surgeon will make small cuts in the skin around the knee. 

Sterile fluid is inserted into the knee to expand the joint enabling a better view of the area. Next, the arthroscope, a metal instrument with a tiny camera will be inserted into the joint for closer examination. To remove any loose bone fragments or scar tissue, a small surgical instrument is inserted through other small incisions.

Once the bone fragment is removed, the surgeon will remove the camera and drain away any fluid that's built up in the knee, due to injury or arthritis, along with any fluid injected during the procedure.

They'll then then close the incisions with stitches or staples and the area will be bandaged before moving the patient to recovery. Depending on the complexity of the surgery a knee arthroscopy can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

The consultant will explain what's been found and whether any other treatment is recommended. Although there's generally less pain after an arthroscopy than with traditional surgery, you're likely to feel discomfort once the anaesthetic wears off. Most people go home on the same day or the following day and the consultant will advise you on the type of activities to avoid.

Physiotherapy is also recommended to help strengthen the muscles around your knee, to aid recovery. For more information contact your local Spire Hospital or visit the Spire Healthcare website.

Your operation: what to expect

Who will be involved?

As well as your orthopaedic surgeon, you’ll also be seen by an:

  • Anaesthetist – to administer anaesthetic during the operation
  • Physiotherapist – to help you with your recovery

Preparing for your knee arthroscopy

You may be asked to attend a pre-admission consultation before your operation is due. Here, you’ll undergo some tests so we can assess your fitness for the procedure. During this appointment, you’ll also be given some helpful information including:

  • What medication, if any, should you start or stop before your procedure
  • How long you can expect to make a full recovery
  • Advice on what to eat and drink on the day of your arthroscopy – you may need to fast for six hours before your procedure depending on the anaesthetic you’ll have
  • What to expect after your knee arthroscopy

Your consultant will also take time to discuss the associated risks with surgery and answer any questions you may have about your procedure. After this, you’ll need to sign a consent form to confirm you’re happy to have the arthroscopy.

How long does a knee arthroscopy take?

From 30 minutes to two hours, depending on what’s found.

Anaesthetic choices

Your surgery may be carried out using:

  • General anaesthetic – where you’re unconscious, either administered as a gas which you’ll breathe in through a mask or a liquid which is injected into your vein
  • Spinal (epidural) anaesthetic – where you’re awake but can't feel anything below your waist, given to you as an injection through your back
  • Local anaesthetic – where you can’t feel your knee, administered as an injection into your knee

If your treatment was performed under general anaesthetic, you should be able to go home on the same day as your procedure, however, you may be required to stay in hospital for a few days to allow you to recover. You should recover from general anaesthetic after two days, you'll also be advised to avoid drinking alcohol, operating machinery, and signing legal documents for 24 to 48 hours.

The effects of spinal and local anaesthetics take less time to wear off and you can expect to go home on the same day as your operation.

Your consultant will recommend the best option for you, taking into account your wishes.

Pain after knee arthroscopy

Although there’s less pain after an arthroscopy than with traditional surgery, you’re likely to feel discomfort once the anaesthetic wears off. Everyone experiences pain differently and how long it lasts will also depend on whether you had any treatment during the procedure. But, don’t worry, you’ll be given painkillers to help you manage this in the following days.

Your hospital stay

Most people go home on the same day or the following day. Before leaving, you may be advised to see a physiotherapist who will give you some exercises for you to do at home to help with your recovery.

Q & A

Jeremy Jarratt, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

Talking about knee arthroscopy surgery

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View transcript of this video Hide video transcript

What is knee arthroscopy?

Knee arthroscopy is really keyhole surgery to have a look inside the knee and deal with any abnormalities that are found, often that’s a cartilage tear.

How is the procedure performed?

It’s minimally invasive, it’s done through two or three very small cuts. It’s done as a day case so you’re in hospital and out the same day, and it’s a very short general anaesthetic, so the recovery is often quicker.

Who is suitable for knee arthroscopy?

Most patients are suitable for it. It depends on the condition of the knee, but if it is something that is treatable by arthroscopic surgery, then most patients are suitable – and it's particularly good for those who’ve got significant medical problems as well, because it is a relatively small procedure.

How long does it take to recover from knee arthroscopy?

The recovery from arthroscopy is variable but if it is a simple procedure, most patients will have made almost a complete recovery within three weeks. Some patients take a little longer and sometimes maximum recovery can take up to six weeks.

Is knee arthroscopy successful?

Arthroscopic surgery is very successful. It is very important to do the right procedure on the right patient and that comes down to patient selection and having the discussion with the patient about what their condition is and what we can do for them. But then after that, it’s really down to them to follow the advice of the physiotherapists and engage with their rehabilitation afterwards, and most patients who have arthroscopic surgery for the right condition do exceptionally well.

Your recovery: what to expect

As with most keyhole surgery, recovery from a knee arthroscopy will be quicker than with traditional knee surgery. However, the speed at which this happens will depend on the cause of your knee problems and if you had any treatment during the procedure.

Also, if you have an ongoing knee disease or injury needing further treatment, your recovery may take longer than it would otherwise.

It’s totally normal to experience the following in the days and sometimes weeks after an arthroscopy:

  • Bruising
  • Discomfort
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness

You can expect to return home the same day or the day after your arthroscopy. Once home, you should elevate your leg regularly and apply ice to your knee to reduce the risk of swelling and pain. The dressings around your knee should also be kept clean and dry for up to two days, so it’s recommended that you shower with a bag over your knee. You may want to wear loose, comfortable clothing so you can dress easily.

If your arthroscopy was delivered under general anaesthetic, you may find that your memory, concentration and reflexes change for a day or two. You should have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours after your operation, and you’re advised to avoid drinking alcohol and signing any legal documentation for two days.


We’ll organise a follow-up appointment for you to attend a couple of weeks after your arthroscopy. Here, we can check how well you’re recovering and you can discuss any additional queries you may have.

Your lifestyle after treatment

You may need to spend a night in hospital to recover and you may be given crutches to help you get around until the pain and swelling have reduced. You may also be given compression bandages or specialist pumps to help improve your blood flow through your knee.

Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work after one week. You can expect to drive again after two weeks, though you’ll need to have recovered from your operation and be free of distracting pain or sedative side effects from painkillers. It’s also advisable to speak with your motor insurance company and check with your doctor first. You’ll also need to exercise safely and avoid strenuous activities or sports for six weeks, your consultant will advise you.

It’s important to do any exercises your physiotherapist gives you to help strengthen the muscles around your knee, as this will improve your recovery.

You should also speak to your doctor if you’re travelling by plane within a few weeks of your arthroscopy, as you’ll be at an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in one of the deep veins in your body.

Risks and complications

There are fewer risks and complications with a knee arthroscopy than with traditional knee surgery, but all operations carry small risks and your consultant should explain them to you beforehand. The following are fortunately not common:

  • Accidental nerve or tissue damage
  • Allergy to anaesthetics or anaesthetic complications
  • Blood clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Damage to ligaments
  • Excessive bleeding from the wound
  • Excessive bleeding inside the joint
  • Excessive swelling of the joint
  • Fluid leaking from the incisions after seven days
  • Infection inside the joint
  • Persistent pain
  • Teared meniscus

You should also seek out medical advice if you start to experience any of the following after your arthroscopy:

  • Discharge around the wound
  • High temperature
  • Numb or tingling sensations
  • Redness or swelling
  • Severe and/or increasing pain

At Spire hospitals, your safety is our top priority. We have high standards of quality control, equipment and cleanliness and a rigorous system of review and training for our medical teams.

Treatment and recovery timeline

Although everyone's different, here’s a rough guide to knee arthroscopy recovery time:

View interactive timeline View full timeline

Up to 1 night

You’ll be able to leave hospital

1–2 weeks

Return to work and light exercise

Around 2 weeks

May be able to drive (check with your car insurance company)

6 weeks

Return to heavy work and sports

  • Up to 1 night

    You’ll be able to leave hospital

  • 1–2 weeks

    Return to work and light exercise

  • Around 2 weeks

    May be able to drive (check with your car insurance company)

  • 6 weeks

    Return to heavy work and sports

Frequently asked questions

How long does knee arthroscopy take?

You can expect your procedure to take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on what is found.

When can I start exercising again?

Following your knee arthroscopy, you can expect to return to light exercise after two weeks and may be able to resume playing sports after six weeks.

Is arthroscopic knee surgery painful?

Your arthroscopy will be performed under anaesthetic so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. However you may experience pain and swelling around your knee as you recover at home, this can be improved by keeping your leg elevated and applying ice.

Can you walk right after arthroscopic knee surgery?

You’ll unlikely be able to walk without support straightaway. We may give you a crutch to help you get around until the pain and swelling has gone down.

Is knee arthroscopy major surgery?

There are fewer risks and complications with a knee arthroscopy than with traditional knee surgery, but all operations carry small risks. Your consultant will explain these to you before your procedure.

When can I shower after knee arthroscopy?

You can shower once you’re home if you make sure to keep the dressing around your knee dry, this can be done by wrapping your wound in a plastic bag. The dressing must be kept clean and dry for at least two days after your arthroscopy.

How long after knee arthroscopy can I drive?

You may be able to drive after two weeks of recovery. Your consultant will discuss this with you and it is advised that you talk to your insurance company too.

Do you need a catheter for knee surgery?

You may need a catheter for your arthroscopy if it is being performed under general anaesthetic, but not always. You can discuss this with your consultant before the procedure.

Is arthroscopic knee surgery an outpatient procedure?

Knee arthroscopy can be performed as a day case, where you’re able to go home on the same day.

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.

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