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Recovery - Arthroscopy (keyhole surgery for joints)

The time it takes to recover depends on your general health and the specific procedure you had.

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

After the operation

If you had a general anaesthetic, you'll be taken to a room to recover from the effects.

You may experience some pain in the affected joint. If you do, tell a member of the hospital staff. They can give you painkillers.

Most people are able to leave the hospital on the day of surgery or the following morning. Before leaving, you may see a physiotherapist. They will discuss exercises for you to do at home.

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 can help improve blood flow.

Recovery advice

You'll probably feel tired and light-headed after having a general anaesthetic. 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. This will help reduce the swelling when you get home. You should also do any joint exercises that were 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. You can usually remove dressings after 5 to 10 days.

Your wounds should start to heal within a few days. If you have non-dissolvable stitches, they'll need to be removed after a week or two. You can usually go to your GP for this.

You'll have a follow-up appointment a few weeks after the operation. This is to discuss the results of the surgery, your recovery, and any other treatment you may need.

Returning to normal activity

Your surgeon will let you know how long it's likely to take for you to recover. They will let you know what activities you should avoid. You'll probably need some time off work. You will usually need a few days but this varies from person to person. It depends on whether your job involves strenuous activity.

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

They can also tell you when you'll be able to do strenuous physical activity, such as sport and heavy lifting. For many people, this will be around 6 weeks after surgery, but in some cases it may not be for several months.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP or hospital 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.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.