5 Possible Complications of a Knee Arthroscopy

Arthroscopic knee surgery is a common treatment used for problems such as a torn meniscus, cartilage damage, ligament injuries, and other conditions.  While the vast majority of people who undergo this surgery have an uncomplicated recovery, there are problems that can occur.  The good news is, most complications from surgery can be effectively treated, but it is important to understand the cause of the problem and initiate appropriate treatment as soon as possible.

Persistent Pain

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Pain after surgery is a frustrating complication of a knee arthroscopy.  The vast majority of patients having this type of surgery improve, but there are a percentage who have persistent pain, and some who even find their pain worsens after the surgical procedure. 

Sometimes pain is expected after surgery, but typically these symptoms improve within a few days or weeks.  If pain is not improving, some of the conditions listed here could explain the persistance. 


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 An infection is an uncommon problem after a knee arthroscopy, but it can occur.  Infection is more common in patients who have more complex procedures, and those who have implants or tissue grafts inserted into the knee joint.  Typical symptoms of an infection of the knee joint include:

  • fever
  • swelling
  • redness and warmth
  • drainage from the incisions
  • chills and sweats

Some of these symptoms can occur normally after a knee arthroscopy, but treatment of infection is best accomplished when the condition is diagnosed soon after surgery.  Therefore, if you suspect you may have an infection, it is important to contact your surgeon.

The usual treatment of an infection inside the knee joint is a second surgery to clean out the infection.  In the case where implants or grafts were used during the surgery, these may have to be removed.

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Blood Clot

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A blood clot can occur at any time, but the risk of developing a blood clot goes up after a surgical procedure.  While a knee arthroscopy is generally considered a low-risk surgery for the likelihood of developing a clot, it can occur.

Symptoms of a blood clot typically include swelling of the leg and ankle, and pain in the back of the calf.  Patients who have other risk factors for developing blood clots should discuss with their surgeon or primary care doctor if they may require blood thinning medications after surgery to prevent this complication.

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Swollen Joint

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Persisent swelling is a frustrating problem after knee arthroscopy.  The first step is to determine the type of swelling, and then to target the cause.  Swelling can occur from blood accumulating in the joint, pus as a result of infection, or joint fluid as a result of persistent inflammation.  Once the type of fluid is identified, your surgeon can recommend treatments to alleviate the fluid build-up.

In some cases, it can be helpful to drain the fluid from the joint.  This also allows your surgeon to perform special tests on the fluid if there are concerns for infection.

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Arthritis is a condition of inflammation and damage to the knee joint.  Sometimes arthritis can progress quickly, and this may occur following an arthroscopic surgery.  Whether the surgery was the cause of the progression, or just happened to occur at the same time, is variable.  However, some patients find that joint damage may progress rapidly, and this time may follow a knee arthroscopy.

When the joint surface begins to wear thin, it is important to take steps to prevent the progression of arthritis.  For people who have more severe symptoms that don't improve, surgical treatment of arthritis may be considered.

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Finding a Solution

I often see people make the mistake of trying to push through their planned rehabilitation, even when problems may require a change in the course of their treatment. It's a great idea to have a planned goal and to work towards achieving that goal. However, when problems arise, it's also important to adapt your plan to ensure that you are able to get back on track. Ignoring the signs of a complication may only make the problem worse. If you suspect you are having a complication from your surgery, talk to your doctor, understand the problem, and work to find a new path to recovery.

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