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What to Expect After Meniscus Surgery - Knee Arthroscopy Recovery After a Partial Meniscectomy

Swelling, bruising and scope holes visible after knee meniscus removal.
Swelling, bruising and scope holes visible after knee meniscus removal. | Source

My Story

On February 6, 2012, I underwent my sixth (count them) knee surgery. Lucky me, I know! So, if you're wondering what to expect after meniscus surgery, well, I'm your gal. My first partial meniscectomy occurred almost 30 years ago, after a tennis injury. The audible snap of my tearing meniscus was actually heard by my teammates on the next court. Good grief—it hurt! The next meniscus tear happened many years later, in my 30s, after a seemingly innocent move. I merely kneeled down while talking to a neighbor and felt the unmistakable pain afterwards.

This next surgery resulted in an unthinkable outcome: I woke up with a leg immobilizer on and was told they found a chondral injury, meaning they discovered I had a hole in my articular cartilage. I was told my femur and tibia were bone on bone as a result. They did what's called a micro-fracture surgery that would render me non-weight-bearing for a long six weeks. It was particularly fun being on crutches since my twins were toddlers. Anyway, that's an entirely different topic.

I ended up having two more surgeries after the discovery of the chondral defect, with a total of 12 weeks on crutches. They kept finding these pesky holes in there. They ended up doing what's called a Femoral Osteotomy to prevent these constant chondral defects. That was surgery number four. Surgery number five was just a simple hardware removal (a screw was causing me pain).

Now, here I am going on my sixth surgery. I've torn my meniscus again, just twisting to get into my van to take my daughter to school. It's never anything cool like a skiing or skydiving injury, mind you. Okay, so now you've got my background, let me tell you what to expect.

The size difference between your two knees will be fairly drastic.
The size difference between your two knees will be fairly drastic. | Source

After Meniscus Surgery

You will have bandages on the portal holes where the scope was inserted. Normally, you will need to keep these bandaged until your first pre-op appointment. You won't be able to take a normal shower until the bandages can be removed. I've normally just taken baths and kept the incisions dry by draping my leg out of the bathtub. Not convenient, but you want to do what's required to avoid an infection.

You will see quite a lot of bruising. Don't worry, it's perfectly normal. It usually becomes a bit more pronounced in the first week.

There will also be quite a bit of swelling, again this is normal. The size difference between your two knees will be pronounced.

Naturally, there will be pain. The incision pain is fairly mild since the holes are pretty small. I've found the main hole where they scope to be the most painful. There are normally three holes or "portals" in all: one for the actual arthroscope, another to pump saline into the knee for better visibility, and the final portal is for the actual tools.

Due to the swelling and pain, your knee will feel quite stiff. Your range of motion will be quite limited at first, it will get better as the swelling goes down.

Up close view of the bruising
Up close view of the bruising | Source
Cryo cuff apparatus with cooler
Cryo cuff apparatus with cooler | Source
Cryo cuff
Cryo cuff | Source

Postoperative Care: Knee Surgery Recovery

When you wake up in the recovery room, chances are you'll see an odd device that looks like a big cooler sitting near you. This is what's called a Cryo Cuff with a Cooler. Basically, you fill the cooler with ice and water, attach the cryo cuff's tube assembly and it circulates cold ice water onto the knee. It works like a charm! I highly recommend you take full advantage of it. It's your postoperative friend, trust me.

You will bring crutches with you to the place you're getting the arthroscopy. Obviously your knee won't be ready for primetime straight out of the procedure, so you'll need to rely on crutches at first. After the anesthesia has worn off a bit, you'll be ready to go.

The first week or so is the worst. The swelling makes the knee painful and immobile. The surgeon's office will generally recommend some simple exercises you can do to improve mobility and reduce swelling, so DO THEM! They're simple exercises like straight leg raises, for example.

Elevate your knee as much as possible. Make sure you're set up with ample pillows to get the job done.

You will be sent home with a prescription for some narcotics, too. You will need these the most the first few days. I found taking high doses of Ibuprofen or some other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicine to be key. If you can reduce the swelling in your knee, you will feel much better. I staggered the narcotics and the NSAIDS for maximum pain reduction.

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