Recovering from an arthroscopy 

How long it takes to recover after an arthroscopy can vary, depending on the type of surgery you had, your general health and the type of work that you do.

Some people feel better after a few days, while others may not be back to normal for several months.

After the operation

After your arthroscopy, you'll be taken to a room to recover from the effects of the general anaesthetic, if it was used during the procedure.

You may experience some pain in the joint. If you do, tell a member of the hospital staff, who will be able to give you painkillers.

Most people who have an arthroscopy are able to leave hospital either on the day of the surgery or the following morning. Before leaving hospital, you may have an appointment with a physiotherapist to discuss exercises for you to do at home.

Depending on the type of procedure you had, you may need a temporary sling, splint or crutches to support and protect the joint while you recover. Some people are given special pumps or compression bandages to help improve their blood flow.

Recovery advice

It's likely that you'll feel tired and light-headed after having a general anaesthetic, so you'll need to ask a responsible adult to take you home and to stay with you for the first 24 hours following surgery. Most people will recover from the effects of the anaesthetic within 48 hours.

Make sure you elevate the joint and apply ice packs to help with swelling when you get home, if advised to do so. You should also carry out any joint exercises that have been recommended for you.

Any dressings will need to be kept as dry as possible, so you'll need to cover them with a plastic bag when having a bath or shower. If your dressings do get wet or fall off, they will need to be replaced. The dressings can usually be removed after 5 to 10 days.

Your wounds should start to heal within a few days. If non-dissolvable stiches were used to close them, these will need to be removed after a week or two. This will usually be done by a practice nurse at your local GP surgery.

You'll normally be asked to attend a follow-up appointment a few weeks after the operation to discuss the results of the surgery, your recovery, and any additional treatment you may require.

Returning to normal activities

Your surgeon or care team will advise you how long it's likely to take to fully recover and what activities you should avoid until you're feeling better.

You'll probably need at least a week or two off work, although this varies from person to person  some need more, while others need less. This will largely depend on whether your job involves strenuous activity that could damage the joint.

You'll be able to drive again once you're able to do so without experiencing any pain and you can safely perform an emergency stop. This may not be for a few weeks or several months after surgery. Your surgeon can give you more specific advice.

Your surgeon can advise you on how long it will be before you can undertake strenuous physical activities, such as heavy lifting and sport. For many people, this will be around six weeks after surgery, but in some cases it may not be for several months.

When to seek medical advice

You should contact your GP or the clinic where you had your operation if you experience:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • severe or increasing pain
  • severe or increasing redness or swelling
  • discoloured or foul-smelling discharge from your wounds
  • numbness or tingling

These problems could be a sign of a complication of surgery, such as an infection or nerve damage.

Page last reviewed: 27/04/2015

Next review due: 27/04/2017