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Scoping out the Situation: Understanding the Knee & Arthroscopy

Commonly called a knee scope, this minimally invasive surgery allows an orthopedic surgeon to diagnose and treat a variety of knee disorders. So, if you have persistent pain, catching or swelling in your knee, an arhroscopy may be just what the doctor orders.

The Procedure
Most knee scopes are performed on an outpatient basis under local, regional or general anesthesia.

An orthopedic surgeon makes a few portal incisions, about 1/8 inch each, in the knee (see diagrams). An arthroscope, irrigation device and surgical instruments are then inserted through these incisions. An arthroscope is a pen-shaped device to which a tiny video camera and light source are attached. The recorded image, which can be magnified up to 30 times (normal size), is then projected onto a monitor. The irrigation device releases a sterile solution to clear away any cloudy fluid. Now the surgeon has a clear image inside the knee joint and can effectively evaluate, diagnose, and often treat what is causing the knee problem.

A Brief Anatomy Lesson
The knee is a hinged joint made up of three bones held firmly together by ligaments; dense structures of connective tissue that stabilize the joint.

The bones that meet at the knee are the femur (upper leg), the tibia (lower leg), and the patella (knee cap). Inside the joint, the bones are lined by a smooth protective layer, called articular cartilage, which allows the bones to glide smoothly upon one another. Two major ligaments cross at the center, inside the knee joint to control forward, backward and rotational motion. These ligaments are called the anterior (ACL) and posterior (PCL) cruciate ligaments.

Outside the knee joint, are two other major ligaments that stabilize the knee’s sideways motion. Located on the inner side of the leg is the medial (means inner) collateral ligament (MCL); on the outer side is the lateral (means outer) collateral ligament (LCL). The patellar tendon connects the lower part of the patella to the upper part of the tibia.

The meniscus is a semicircular ring of tough fibrous cartilage, which differs from the cartilage lining the bones. There are two menisci in each knee; one on the inner side called the medial meniscus, and one on the outer (side) called the lateral meniscus. Located between weight bearing bone ends in the knee, these half moon-shaped structures act as shock absorbers within the knee, while they help uniformly distribute weight loads.

The diagram to the left illustrates common problems effectively diagnosed and treated during arthroscopic surgery.

A knee scope is much less traumatic to the muscles, ligaments and tissues, than the traditional arthrotomy (opening the knee with long incisions). This results in less scarring, quicker healing and recovery. Higher resolution cameras and technological advances in arthroscopic surgery have dramatically improved diagnostic accuracy and treatment outcomes.

Over 1.5 million knee arthroscopies are performed each year in America.

Recovery time varies and is dependent upon a number of factors including:

• Diagnosis and treatment
• Severity of the condition
• General health and physical condition
• Efficacy of post-operative treatment plan
• Pre and post-operative patient compliance


This information was provided by HealthQuest Physical Therapy and Wellness Centers: Return to Work, Return to Life, Return to Play.  To learn more about HealthQuest Physical Therapy services and how we can help you recover from an on-the-job injury, regain your independence and get back to living your life, or return to the physical activities you love visit our website at

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Written by Brooks Juneau

August 25, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Knee

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