What Causes Pain after Arthroscopy?

A. Pasbjerg

There are several reasons a patient may experience pain after arthroscopy. Some amount of swelling and pain are normal and can be controlled with elevation, ice, and medication. If the patient who had surgery on a joint puts weight on it before it is ready, or otherwise engages in too much activity too soon, it may cause pain. In some cases, the incision can become infected, leading to additional discomfort. Serious complications can include blood accumulating in the joint and the formation of blood clots.

Blood clots breaking free after arthroscopy may cause chest pain.
Blood clots breaking free after arthroscopy may cause chest pain.

Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure which involves making an incision, inserting an arthroscope into a joint, and repairing or removing damaged tissue, so a certain level of pain is normal afterward. To keep swelling and therefore pain at a minimum, it is typically recommended to keep the affected joint elevated and iced for a time after the operation. Medication is also often prescribed to help control pain after arthroscopy as the joint heals.

Another reason patients may have pain after arthroscopy is if they try to do too much with the affected joint too soon. Patients who have had surgery on a knee, for example, need to keep their weight off of the leg as directed by their doctor, as walking before they are ready can do more damage and cause additional pain. Physical therapy and exercise of the joint will become important for recovery fairly soon after surgery, but patients should make sure to follow their doctors' instructions on when to begin.

Infection is another possible cause of pain after arthroscopy. If an infection sets in to an area, the joint may become warm, red, and swollen, there may be fluid or pus coming out of the incision, and the patient may get a fever or chills. To avoid this, patient's should make sure to keep the incision clean, dry, and covered until it heals.

Though they are rare, some more serious issues may arise that can lead to pain after arthroscopy. Blood can pool in the joint, causing pressure and swelling. It is also possible for blood clots to form at the location of the surgery; for those who have had knee surgery, this may lead to a blockage that causes pain in the calf. Clots may also break free and travel to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, causing chest pain. Doctors may recommend patients take medication such as aspirin after the operation to try and limit the possibility of clotting.

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