What is an arthroscopy?

An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery used to diagnose and treat problems within joints. The procedure is most commonly used on the knee, but also on ankles, shoulders, elbows and the wrist.

The procedure allows your Consultant to look inside a joint. It can also be used to treat a range of problems and conditions for example:

  • repair damaged cartilage
  • remove fragments of loose bone or cartilage
  • repair torn ligaments

An arthroscopy may be used when it is difficult to diagnose a problem as not all conditions show clearly on an MRI scan. By taking a look inside the joint your consultant can see clearly what the problem is and have the opportunity to treat it at the same time, should this be appropriate.

What happens during an arthroscopy?

A small, sterilised metal tube called an arthroscope is used during an arthroscopy; about the size of a drinking straw, fibre optic bundles inside provide a light source enabling the surgeon to see within your knee. The fibre optics also act as a camera allowing images from inside your knee to be displayed on a video screen in theatre.

Small surgical instruments can be passed through the arthroscope allowing the surgeon to treat certain conditions inside the joint. This is usual when repairing torn or damaged cartilage.

The arthroscope is inserted inside through two small incisions made by your surgeon along the front of the knee joint; these are usually either side of your knee cap (patella). The incisions are usually closed by two small sutures (stitches) and covered by a small dressing, although on some occasions ‘Steri-strips’ self-adhesive stitches may be used. Typically your stitches will removed by your Consultant two weeks after your procedure, when you next visit him in clinic. A nurse on the ward will talk to you about caring for your wound and provide cleaning dressings.

An arthroscopy is usually performed as a day case procedure, which means you will be able to go home on the same day. In some cases it may be necessary for you to stay overnight in the hospital, going home the following day.

What are the benefits of surgery?

Because an arthroscopy is carried out using keyhole surgery, where only small cuts are made in the skin, this offers many benefits over traditional open surgery. These include:


  • Lower risk of infection
  • Faster healing time
  • Less pain following the operation
  • The procedure can be performed as a day case
  • You may be able to resume normal activities more quickly

How long does recovery take?

The time it takes to recover from an arthroscopy can vary depending on your health, age and the nature of the problem. Normal healing takes between 6-12 weeks, depending on the type of surgery performed.

It is normal to be able to walk around after surgery, unless you consultant recommends otherwise. You may require the use of crutches to help support walking; a physiotherapist will teach you how to use them before you go home and for how long.It is usual to anticipate within a week you should be walking short distances, comfortably. More physical activities such as lifting and sport can be resumed after six to eight weeks, unless your surgeon advises otherwise.