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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

How It's Done

Arthroscopic surgery takes place in a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical suite.

When you arrive for surgery, you will remove your clothing and put on a hospital gown. A nurse will check your pulse, blood pressure and temperature. An intravenous (IV) line will be placed in your arm. The IV administers fluid and medications directly into a vein.

In the operating room, the skin over the affected joint will be cleaned thoroughly. Your body will be positioned to give the surgeon the best access to your affected joint. For example, for knee surgery, you may need to lie down with your knee slightly bent.

You will be given anesthesia to make you comfortable (or asleep) during the procedure. Arthroscopic surgery can be performed under local, regional or general anesthesia. The type of anesthesia depends on several factors. These include:

  • The joint being repaired

  • The severity of joint damage

  • The level of pain before surgery

  • Other health problems

  • Your willingness to be awake during surgery

The surgeon makes a small incision in your joint and inserts the arthroscope. Two additional incisions are made for an irrigation device and surgical instruments. In some cases, a tourniquet will be placed near the affected joint to control bleeding.

An arthroscope used for surgery on the knee joint is about the width of a pencil. The incision is about the size of a buttonhole. For smaller joints, such as the wrist and ankle, a smaller arthroscope is used.

Arthroscopic surgery usually lasts about one hour. When the surgeon finishes repairing your joint, he or she closes the incisions with stitches. Or the surgeon may cover the incisions with sterile dressings. In many cases, sutures are not needed because the incisions are so small.

You will be taken to the recovery room. There, the medical team will monitor your condition. Depending upon the type of arthroscopic surgery, you may have a large bandage, ice pack or brace on your joint.

After a short period, you should be stable enough to be transferred to a hospital room. In cases of same-day surgery, you will be allowed to go home once you have recovered from the effects of anesthesia.

If necessary, a physical therapist will visit you in your room. He or she can help you adjust to crutches, a sling or a joint brace.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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