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What Is a Total Knee Arthroscopy?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Various different surgical techniques are used by doctors to assess and improve knee joint problems. A total knee arthroscopy is one procedure where the knee only receives small incisions, through which the doctor places an arthroscope tube camera, and tools with which to cut, loosen or tighten components of the joint. Commonly, the procedure is known simply as a knee arthroscopy, rather than a total knee arthroscopy.

The knee is a hinge joint that allows the lower leg to move relative to the upper leg. This is essential to walking and other movements of the leg. Each knee joint is made up of cartilage and ligaments, and this is attached to bone and muscle. If a person's joint is injured, or the biological components degrade, then the movement of the knee can be compromised, and the patient can experience pain in the area.

Although a surgeon can cut open the flesh and joint of the knee to see inside and perform surgical manipulation, this often results in scarring, and the skin and flesh take time to heal. This type of surgery is called arthroplasty, and when portions of the joint need to be replaced with artificial substances, then it is called a total knee arthroplasty, or a total knee replacement. A total knee arthroscopy, on the other hand, only involves one or more small incisions, which reduces healing time and leaves a much smaller scar.

An arthroscope is a small tube with fiber optic lights at the end and a camera that relays images back to a screen in the operating room. Sometimes a surgeon just needs to insert the camera to identify problem areas in the knee. For these patients, only one incision needs to be made. For other cases, where the surgeon wants to alter a variety of structures inside the joint, more incisions can be made to accommodate more surgical tools like scalpels or forceps.

Commonly, a person who undergoes a total knee arthroscopy needs a general anesthetic for the procedure. The operation and the recovery process are relatively simple, though, and the patient commonly need not stay in the hospital overnight. Examples of conditions of the knee that could warrant a total knee arthroscopy include accidental cartilage injuries, arthritis, and overgrowth of bone inside the knee. The arthroscopy technique is also not limited to knee problems, as an arthroscope can be used on many other joints in the body like the shoulder or the wrist.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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