Knee arthroscopic surgery is a procedure performed through small incisions in the skin to repair injuries to tissues such as ligaments, cartilage, or bone within the knee joint area. The surgery is conducted with the aid of an arthroscope, which is a very small instrument guided by a lighted scope attached to a television monitor. Other instruments are inserted through three incisions around the knee. Arthroscopic surgeries range from minor procedures such as flushing or smoothing out bone surfaces or tissue fragments (lavage and debridement) associated with osteoarthritis, to the realignment of a dislocated knee and ligament grafting surgeries. The range of surgeries represents very different procedures, risks, and aftercare requirements.
While the clear advantages of arthrocopic surgery lie in surgery with less anesthetic, less cutting, and less recovery time, this surgery nonetheless requires a very thorough examination of the causes of knee injury or pain prior to a decision for surgery.
There are many procedures that currently fall under the general surgical category of knee arthroscopy. They fall into roughly two groups—acute injuries that destabilize the knee, and pain management for floating or displaced cartilage and rough bone. Acute injuries are usually the result of traumatic injury to the knee tissues such as ligaments and cartilage through accidents, sports movements, and some overuse causes. Acute injuries involve damage to the mechanical features, including ligaments and patella of the knee. These injuries can result in knee instability, severe knee dislocations, and complete lack of knee mobility. Ligament, tendon, and patella placements are key elements of the surgery. The type of treatment for
acute injuries depends in large part on a strict grading system that rates the injury. For instance, grades I and II call for rest, support by crutches or leg brace, pain management, and rehabilitation. Grades III and IV indicate the need for surgery. Acute injuries to the four stabilizing ligaments of the knee joint—the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL)—as well as to the "tracking," or seating of the patella, can be highly debilitating.
Treatment of these acute injuries include such common surgeries as:
Repairs of a torn ligament or reconstruction of the ligament.
Release of a malaligned kneecap. This involves tendon surgery to release and fit the patella better into its groove.
Grafts to ligaments to support smoother tracking of the knee with the femur.
Pain management surgeries, on the other hand, are used to relieve severe discomfort of the knee due to osteoarthritis conditions. These treatments aim at relieving pain and instability caused by more chronic, "wear and tear" kinds of conditions and involve minor and more optional surgical procedures to treat cartilage and bone surfaces. These include arthroscopic techniques to remove detached or obtruding pieces of cartilage in the joint space such as the meniscus (a fibrous cushion for the patella), to smooth aged, rough surface bone, or to remove parts of the lining of the joint that are inflamed.
Treatment distinctions between arthroscopic surgery for acute injuries and those for pain management are important and should be kept in mind. They have implications for the necessity for surgery, risks of surgery, complications, aftercare, and expectations for improvement. Arthroscopic surgery for acute injuries is less controversial because clear dysfunction and/or severe instability are measurable indications for surgery and easily identifiable. Surgery indications for pain management are largely for chronic damage and for the milder grades or stages of acute injuries (severity Grade I and II). These are controversial due to the existence of pain management and rehabilitation alternatives. Arthroscopic surgery for pain management is currently under debate.
Nancy McKenzie PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,