Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Recovery: Return to Normal Activities
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
January 22, 2023

Knee arthroscopy or a “knee scope” is a common procedure used to diagnose and treat conditions in the knee joint. The recovery time after an arthroscopic surgery can vary depending on the individual, but it usually takes several weeks for full healing.

For the first few days after the procedure, crutches may be recommended by your doctor as part of your rehabilitation process. Crutches help to reduce weight on the affected joint and allow it to heal properly.

Understanding what happens during and after knee arthroscopy will help you make informed decisions about your healthcare journey while aiding in a successful recovery with minimal pain or discomfort.

In this article, we’ll explore all aspects of knee arthroscopy recovery time, including using crutches, tips for managing symptoms, and coping with the overall experience.

What is knee arthroscopic knee surgery?

Arthroscopy of the knee is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat problems in the knee joint.

It involves inserting a small camera into the knee joint through a tiny incision, allowing the surgeon to view the inside of the joint and repair any damage.

The surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia or local anesthesia with sedation.

Common Conditions Treated With Knee Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy may be recommended for individuals with persistent pain or swelling in their knees, even after trying other treatments such as physical therapy or medications.

This procedure may also be recommended for the following:

  • Torn ligaments [Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)/ Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)]
  • Injured cartilage (osteochondral lesions)
  • Torn meniscus (the cushion between bones)
  • Removing loose bodies (such as bone fragments) from the joint space
  • Diagnosing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diagnosing patellar tendonitis and plica syndrome

As we have just noted, knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat various knee conditions.

It can be an effective way to reduce pain and improve mobility, but the recovery time varies depending on the individual’s condition. Now let’s look at who needs this procedure.

Candidates for Knee Arthroscopy

If you are experiencing persistent pain or swelling in your knees despite conservative treatment options, you should consider consulting an orthopedic specialist to discuss whether knee arthroscopy is an option for you.

Depending on your condition and medical history, you will need clearance from your primary care physician before being approved for surgery by an orthopaedic surgeon.

Now let’s take a look at why providers use knee arthroscopy.

Why do Providers Use Knee Arthroscopy?

Providers use knee arthroscopy surgery for several reasons. One common reason is that it can be used to diagnose injuries such as meniscus tears or ligament damage, which may not show up on an X-ray or MRI scan.

By viewing the joint’s interior directly, providers can accurately identify any issues that may be present and determine what treatment plan would best suit their patient’s needs.

Another reason why providers might choose this type of surgery is because it allows them to repair injured soft tissues and bones within the joint itself rather than having to make larger incisions outside of it like with traditional open surgeries.

Patients can recover faster since there isn’t as much tissue trauma involved in repairing these types of injuries using arthroscopic techniques versus more invasive methods like open surgery.

Additionally, it can help reduce infection risk and other complications associated with more invasive procedures – the fewer cuts, the less chance for avoidable problems!

Finally, some providers also use arthroscopy to remove damaged or inflamed tissue from within a joint.

In these cases, removing this tissue helps reduce pain and improve mobility by reducing inflammation around affected areas while still preserving healthy structures within the joint itself so that movement remains unrestricted after recovery has taken place.

It’s important to understand the process before having the procedure, including what happens before, during, and after surgery, so that you can have an informed discussion with your provider about the best course of action for your condition.

What Happens Before Knee Arthroscopy?

Before any medical procedure, it is important to be prepared. Knee arthroscopy is no exception.

Before the procedure, you will need to provide your health care provider with a complete list of medications that you are taking and when you should stop eating and drinking before the surgery.

Your doctor will also discuss what type of anesthesia will be used during the procedure.

Depending on your individual needs, general or local anesthesia may be recommended for knee arthroscopy.

General anesthesia puts you in a deep sleep while local anesthetic numbs only the area being operated on.

In addition to discussing your medical history and current medications, your doctor may order certain tests prior to your knee arthroscopy procedure such as X-rays or blood work.

These tests help ensure that there are no underlying issues that could complicate the surgery or recovery process after surgery has been completed.

It is important for patients undergoing knee arthroscopy to follow their doctor’s instructions carefully before their scheduled procedure date to minimize potential risks associated with this type of surgery.

If necessary, ensure that someone can drive you home from the hospital after your operation since driving yourself home would not be safe due to sedation from the anesthesia used during surgery.

Before knee arthroscopy, your doctor will assess the condition of your knee and discuss the procedure with you. Now let’s take a look at what happens during the surgery.

Key Takeaway: Before the procedure, your doctor will discuss all aspects of your care such as the type of anesthesia used, what the surgery will entail, your past and current medical history, and additional tests that may be ordered to ensure your safety and full recovery.

What Happens During Knee Arthroscopy?

During the procedure, you will most likely be given a general anaesthetic to keep you pain-free and comfortable.

Once you are ready, your orthopedic surgeon inserts a tiny camera called an arthroscope into the knee joint through tiny incisions.

The images from the arthroscope are projected onto a monitor so that the doctor can view the inside of your knee in real-time.

The first step of any arthroscopic surgery is cleaning and stabilizing the knee joint.

This includes making sure that there are no loose particles or debris in the area before beginning surgery, as well as numbing and positioning your leg for optimal viewing during the procedure.

Once everything is ready, your doctor will make several small incisions around your knee to allow access for inserting instruments such as forceps or scissors, as well as an arthroscope with its attached camera lens.

The size of these incisions depends on what type of surgery you’re having done; they can range from 1-2 millimeters up to 10 millimeters in length, depending on what needs to be done within your joint space.

Once inserted into your joint space, your doctor uses this device to look at images taken by its attached camera lens, which helps them diagnose any injuries present within it and guide their procedures accordingly.

Depending on what needs to be done during this stage of treatment, your doctor may also insert other instruments, such as forceps or scissors, into additional incisions made around your knee if necessary for further repairs or treatments needed within it (such as removing damaged cartilage).

Once complete with their work inside of it, your surgeon removes all tools used throughout this process before sending you off home with post-surgery care and recovery instructions.

The procedure usually takes between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on what needs to be done.

Next, let’s review what happens during recovery to ensure a successful outcome…

Key Takeaway: During the procedure, small incisions are made around the knee to allow access for instruments such as an arthroscope with its attached camera lens. Afterwards, patients must follow instructions on how best to care for themselves while recovering at home safely.

What happens post-surgery?

After knee arthroscopy, you will be transferred to the recovery room, where your doctor will monitor you to ensure you are coming out of anesthesia safely and there are no complications. Most people can go home on the same day.

Someone will need to drive you home after your surgery since you won’t be able to drive yourself due to the anesthesia.

Once at home, it’s important that you stay off your feet as much as possible for the first few days or weeks following surgery.

Your knee will be swollen right after surgery, and that is ok.

You should also keep your leg elevated above the level of your heart when sitting or lying down to reduce the pain and swelling.

Taking over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen can help with any discomfort you may experience during recovery.

However, ensure your doctor approves this because these medications can harm you if you have certain medical problems.

Depending on the complexity and nature of the procedure, your sports medicine doctor or orthopedic surgeon may prescribe prescription pain medication to help with pain relief.

The OTC and prescription drugs I mentioned have many side effects that could land you in the hospital if taken improperly or longer than prescribed. So, it is very important that

It is also important to keep all incisions clean and dry and covered with a bandage until they are healed so that infection does not occur.

Your surgeon will give you specific instructions regarding how long each bandage should remain in place and when it is safe to come off.

It’s best to follow these instructions closely to prevent complications and optimize the healing and recovery process.

Your doctor may also recommend physical rehabilitation or other exercises designed specifically for knee arthroscopy patients, to help you recover without complications.

These exercises strengthen the muscles around the joint area while reducing stiffness and improving the range of motion in the knee joint.

You will be given a care sheet with clear instructions and pertinent follow-up contact information upon discharge.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how long it typically takes for patients to recover after knee arthroscopy.

Key Takeaway: After knee arthroscopy, it is important to stay off your feet as much as possible and keep incisions covered with a bandage until healed. Taking over-the-counter pain medication can help reduce discomfort, while physical therapy exercises may speed up the healing process.

Arthroscopic knee surgery recovery

Recovery time after knee arthroscopy varies depending on the severity of the injury or condition being treated.

If you have a low-impact job, you may be able to return to work one to two weeks after the surgery. Avoid heavy work on the operated knee during this time.

Generally, it takes 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully before your knee is strong enough and you can return to your normal or strenuous activities.

However, injuries requiring more intensive repair, such as meniscus, ACL, or PCL tears, can take several months to recover.

My personal story – my right knee meniscal tear rehabilitation took the better part of 8 months when I felt I could finally get back to the gym! Again, just a reminder that everyone heals at a different pace!

Pain Management After Knee Arthroscopy

During recovery from knee arthroscopy, pain management is an important part of healing correctly and avoiding further complications shortly.

Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and discomfort during this period.

However, if more serious pain persists, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication depending on your needs and current medical status.

Additionally, physical therapy exercises prescribed by your physician can help improve the range of motion in your knee joint and reduce inflammation and stiffness.

Ultimately, the main goal remains the same: To get back to your normal life and usual activities as soon as possible.

The use of crutches after knee arthroscopy is an important factor in ensuring successful and safe healing, so let’s explore when it’s necessary.

When can you start driving again after knee arthroscopy?

It depends on a few key factors. If an opioid medication was prescribed, your doctor will recommend that you do not drive until after you have stopped taking the drug.

The other important determining factor is YOU!

When you feel that you can subjectively control your car, and when postoperative symptoms allow for safe driving, you should be able to operate your vehicle.  Most people can achieve this one week after surgery

When to use Crutches After Knee Arthroscopy?

Using crutches after arthroscopic knee procedures is a common part of the recovery process.

Your doctor may recommend using crutches after surgery if they believe weight bearing could cause further damage to newly repaired tissues and bones, etc.

This is especially true for the first couple of days immediately following the operation when pain is still quite high, and the risk of re-injury is still present. Most people must continue using their crutches until about seven days after the surgery.

It’s important to use them correctly to ensure that you don’t cause further injury or delay your recovery time.

Using crutches after knee arthroscopy can help you maintain balance and support your body while it recovers.

Key Takeaway: Knee arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat various conditions in the joint. Recovery time after surgery typically takes 4-6 weeks, during which crutches may be needed to reduce weight bearing on the affected leg. Pain can be managed with OTC medications such as ibuprofen.

Tips for Using Crutches After Knee Arthroscopy

Using crutches correctly after knee arthroscopy can help speed up recovery and reduce pain and discomfort during healing.

Follow all doctor/physical therapist instructions:

Listen carefully to any instructions given by medical professionals regarding how long you should use them each day or week, depending on how quickly you recover from surgery – they know best.

If instructed to do so by your healthcare provider, here are some helpful tips to ensure the safe and effective use of crutches:

  1. Make sure you adjust the height correctly to fit comfortably under your arms
  2. Lead with the affected leg
  3. Lean forward slightly with each step taken
  4. Alternate legs when moving
  5. Avoid twisting your torso
  6. Avoid stairs
  7. Don’t try to move too quickly
  8. Place both feet firmly on the ground before shifting your weight
  9. Ask a friend or family member to accompany you outdoors if possible
  10. Wear supportive shoes to avoid slipping; avoid wet floors
  11. Practice balance and coordination exercises regularly
  12. Listen to your body and rest whenever needed throughout the day
  13. Start off with two crutches, switching to one crutch when you can bear more weight
  14. Consult your physician or physical therapist regarding any additional safety precautions necessary for your particular situation
  15. Seek professional advice on the proper technique for using a crutch device itself

The video below does a wonderful job of teaching you the proper way to use your crutches:

Key Takeaway: Using crutches correctly after knee arthroscopy can help speed up recovery time: – Take short steps with the affected leg leading. – Don’t lean forward too much and keep elbows bent slightly when walking. – Avoid stairs if possible. – Switch from two crutches to one cane once able to bear more weight on your leg. – Listen carefully to medical professionals for guidance regarding how long you should use them for each day or week depending on progress in recovering from surgery.

Next, let’s look at some tips for coping with the recovery journey.

Rehabilitation Process After Knee Arthroscopy

Recovering from knee arthroscopy can be a long and difficult process, so it is important to take care of yourself:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Manage your weight
  • Stay hydrated
  • Maintain a positive mindset and attitude
  • Adhere to the rehabilitation program and keep all physical therapy visits
  • Follow doctor or physical therapist-prescribed exercise advice
  • Stay active and limit sitting time as much as possible

Let’s expand on each of these some more:

Getting Enough Sleep

During recovery, it is important to get enough restful sleep to help the body heal properly.

Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep each night if possible. If you are having trouble sleeping due to pain or discomfort, try using an ice pack on the affected area before bedtime or taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

A word about ice packs – never place the pack directly on the skin, as this will irritate, inflame, and compromise the area that was scoped. Instead, wrap the ice or ice pack in a towel and place it on the affected knee.

Eating Healthy Diet

Eating nutritious foods will help keep your energy levels up while aiding in healing and preventing further injury.

Focus on lean proteins like fish and chicken, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables, for vitamins and minerals that will help speed up recovery time.

Avoid processed foods high in sugar, fat, sodium, and calories, which can slow down healing processes in the body.

These foods can also place your body in a pro-inflammatory state, further hindering the healing process.

To learn more about the direct relationship between eating sugary processed foods and inflammation, read my article on the relationship between unhealthy food and the worsening of acne.

Managing Weight

Excess weight puts extra strain on joints which can lead to more pain during recovery, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight throughout this period of rehabilitation.

Try engaging in low-impact activities such as swimming or walking when able.

These activities won’t put too much pressure on already weakened joints but still provide some form of exercise for overall health benefits without exacerbating existing injuries any further than necessary.

Staying Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water helps lubricate joints while also flushing out toxins from the body that could otherwise hinder healing processes, so make sure you stay well hydrated throughout recovery periods after surgery.

Maintaining a Positive Mindset & Attitude

Having an optimistic outlook towards recovery is key since negative thoughts can impede progress made thus far.

Instead, focus on achievable goals every day, no matter how small they may seem at first glance – eventually, those little victories add up.

Also, don’t forget about seeking emotional support from friends, family members, counselors, etc., who understand what you are going through – sometimes, just talking things out with someone else helps immensely.

Following Exercise Advice From Physical Therapist Or Doctor

Depending upon the severity, doctors may prescribe certain exercises designed specifically for recovering patients – these should always be followed closely since failure to do so could result in re-injury or, worse yet, cause permanent damage.

Make sure all instructions given by medical professionals are adhered to carefully until full mobility has been restored.

Even though resting is often recommended, exercise good judgment by not overdoing it – prolonged periods of time spent sitting and staying sedentary can weaken muscles around your knee joint, leaving it vulnerable once activity resumes later.

Instead, aim for gradually increasing activity levels within safe limits set by your physician (i.e., light stretching/yoga) until full strength returns.

Finally, it is important to avoid high-impact activities such as running and jumping until cleared by a doctor, as doing otherwise could potentially cause additional harm beyond repair.

Key Takeaway: Recovering from knee arthroscopy requires getting enough restful sleep, eating a healthy diet, managing weight, staying hydrated, maintaining a positive mindset and attitude, following exercise advice given by medical professionals, and avoiding high-impact activities.


When can I begin walking after arthroscopic knee surgery?

The amount of time it takes to walk after arthroscopic knee surgery depends on the individual and the type of procedure.

Generally, you can expect to be able to bear weight with crutches or a walker within 1-2 days after surgery.

You may start walking short distances (10-15 feet) within 2-3 weeks postoperatively, but this will depend on your progress in physical therapy.

As you regain strength and range of motion, you should gradually increase your distance until you return to normal activity levels.

Should I use crutches after knee arthroscopy?

It is generally recommended to use crutches after knee arthroscopy, especially during the first few days of recovery. Most people may need crutches for up to 7 days after the procedure.

Crutches can help reduce weight bearing on the affected joint and minimize pain while allowing you to move around safely. Your doctor will likely provide specific instructions regarding when and how long you should use crutches following your procedure.

It is important to follow their advice to ensure a successful recovery with minimal complications.

What are the restrictions after knee arthroscopy?

Generally, you should avoid putting weight on the affected leg for at least two weeks and use crutches or a walker to get around.

You may also need to wear a brace or wrap for additional support.

Additionally, you should not drive until your doctor clears you, and you should avoid strenuous activities such as running or jumping.

Follow-up visits with your doctor are necessary to monitor progress and ensure proper healing.

How long after arthroscopic knee surgery can I drive?

It is generally recommended that you wait at least two weeks after surgery before driving.

This allows your body to heal and gives you time to adjust to any changes in mobility or strength.

Consequently, it may be beneficial for someone else to drive for a few days following surgery, if possible, until you feel comfortable behind the wheel again.


Recovery time after surgery varies depending on the procedure but typically lasts several weeks.

Crutches may support weight-bearing during recovery and should be used as directed by your doctor or physical therapist.

Following your doctor’s instructions for activity level, rest, icing, elevation, and other post-operative care will help ensure a successful recovery from knee arthroscopy with minimal discomfort and maximum benefit from the procedure.

With proper care following surgery, you can expect to return to normal activities within a few weeks of knee arthroscopy recovery time crutches use.


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