Knee Arthroscopy with Lateral Retinacular Release

What is arthroscopy?
The arthroscope is a fiber optic instrument (narrower than a pen) which is put into the knee joint through two small incisions.  A camera is attached to the arthroscope and the image is viewed on a TV monitor.  The arthroscope allows me to fully evaluate the entire knee joint, including the knee (patella), the cartilage surfaces, the meniscus, the ligaments (ACL & PCL), and the joint lining.  Small instruments ranging from 3-5 millimeters in size are inserted through the incisions so that I can feel the joint structures for any damage, diagnose the injury, and then repair, reconstruct, or remove the damaged tissue.  Before the development of arthroscopy, large incisions had to be made over the knee joint to treat or diagnose injuries.  Today’s arthroscopic techniques allow more complete evaluations of the knee joint while accelerating the rehabilitation process.

What kinds of procedures can be performed with the arthroscope?
Arthroscopy allows the surgeon to view the inside of the knee joint and perform a variety of surgeries.   In your case, the main reason for the arthroscopic procedure was to perform a lateral retinacular release.  This is done to correct some mild maltracking as well as to unload this portion of the knee cap to relieve symptoms from compression and to relieve symptoms of potentially some arthritis.  A lateral release is a knee arthroscopic procedure that may lend itself to having more swelling, so it is important to ice and follow the guidelines that we outline for you.  This procedure takes a little longer to recover from in some people, but it will be well worth it once you make that recovery. 

What are some of the possible complications of surgery?
While complications are not common, all surgery has associated risks.  Possible complications include stiffness of the knee after surgery or continued pain.  The use of arthroscopic techniques attempts to limit these complications.  Other complications include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, blood clots, or problems with the anesthesia. 

What kind of anesthesia is used?
Knee arthroscopy can be performed with general anesthesia (going to sleep), or regional anesthesia (spinal or epidural block).  The type of anesthesia will depend on your choice.  The anesthesiologist will discuss your options the morning of surgery. 

What do I need to do to prepare for surgery?
Our staff will help to set up the surgery through your insurance company and will instruct you on any paperwork that may be necessary.  If you are over the age of 50, or have significant health conditions you may require an EKG and chest x-ray.  You may also need to see your internist or family doctor to obtain a Letter of Medical Clearance.  The day before the surgery, a member of the hospital or surgery center staff will contact you about what time to arrive for surgery.  You may not eat or drink anything after midnight before your surgery.

How long will I be in the hospital?
Knee arthroscopy is an outpatient procedure you will go home the same day.

What happens the day of surgery?
The day before surgery you will be told what time to report to the hospital or surgery center.  You will be admitted and taken to a pre-operative holding area where you are prepared for surgery.  You will be asked several times which extremity I am operating on.  Please note that you are asked this question many times on purpose.

After the operation you will be taken to the recovery room to be monitored.  Once the effects on anesthesia have worn off and your pain is under good control, you will be given your post-operative instructions and prescription for pain medication and released.  Please be aware that the process of getting checked in, prepared for surgery, undergoing the operation, and recovering from anesthesia takes the majority of the day.  I would recommend that you and your family members bring along some reading material to make the process easier for all.

How should I care for my knee after surgery?
Prior to your discharge, you will be given specific instructions on how to care for your knee.  In general you can expect the following:

Medication:
You will be given a prescription for pain medication.

Showering:
You may shower the next day.  You cannot take a bath until the wounds are completely sealed, usually 2-3 weeks after surgery.

Crutches:
You will be instructed how to use crutches before the surgery.  You should bring a set of crutches with you to the surgery.  How long you use crutches will depend on the type of surgery performed.  Crutches are commonly only required for a couple of days.

Diet:
Resume your regular diet as soon as tolerated.  It is best to start with clear liquids before advancing to solid food. 

Ice:
You should apply ice over the dressing for 20 -30 minutes every hour for several days.  Do not use heat for the first 48-72 hours.

Suture removal:
Some stitches are absorbable and do not need to be removed. However, if there are stitches they will be removed on your first post-op visit.

Return to work or school:
You can return to school or work anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks.  If your job involves more extended walking or heavy activity, you may be out of work or school for a longer period of time.

What will rehabilitation involve?
The rehabilitation is based on several goals: 1) allowing the tissue to heal; 2) regaining motion; 3) regaining strength; and 4) return to sports or work activity.  After lateral release, the rehabilitation generally occurs very rapidly.  Most patients can return to strenuous work in four to six weeks. However, you complete recovery may take 2-3 months to get all your strength back.  The specific rehabilitation protocol will be reviewed with you after surgery.  I send most patients to physical therapy after a lateral retinacular release. 

The potential for swelling and the potential for muscle atrophy is a little higher in this situation, therefore it is best for a patient to see physical therapy before follow-up with me.  After they see me in follow-up, they may or may not need to continue their formal physical therapy.

When can I return to sports or full duty at work?
Your return to your desired activity level will depend on the extent of damage and the procedure performed on your knee.  In general, you will be allowed to return to sports in 4-8 weeks after surgery.  You must have good motion, strength, and control of your knee.  How quickly you return depends on several factors, including: 1) your own rate of healing; 2) the damage found at surgery; 3) if you have any complications; 4) how well you follow the post-operative instructions; 5) how hard you work in rehabilitation.