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How long it takes to recover after an arthroscopy will depend on your general health, the joint involved and the specific procedure you had.

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 affected 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 surgery or the following morning. Before leaving, you may see a physiotherapist who will discuss exercises for you to do at home.

Depending on the procedure you had, you may need a temporary sling, splint or crutches to support and protect the joint while you recover. In some cases, special pumps or compression bandages are used to help improve blood flow.

Recovery advice

You'll probably feel tired and light-headed after having a general anaesthetic, so you'll need to ask someone to take you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours after 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 reduce the swelling when you get home, if advised to do so. You should also do any joint exercises that have been recommended for you.

Keep dressings as dry as possible by covering them with a plastic bag when having a bath or shower. If your dressings get wet or fall off, they'll need to be replaced. Dressings can usually be removed after 5 to 10 days.

Your wounds should start to heal within a few days. If non-dissolvable stitches were used, they'll need to be removed after a week or two. This can usually be done by a practice nurse at your local GP surgery.

You'll have 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 need.

Returning to normal activities

Your surgeon or care team will let you know how long it's likely to take for you 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. It will largely depend on whether your job involves strenuous activity that could damage the joint.

You'll be able to drive when you're able to do so without 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.

They'll also be able to advise you about how long it will be before you can undertake strenuous physical activities, such as sport and heavy lifting. For many people, this will be around six weeks after surgery, but in some cases it may not be for several months.

When to see a doctor

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.