What happens on the day

What happens when you have an arthroscopy

On the day of your arthroscopy you may need to stop eating and drinking. Your appointment letter will tell you what to do.

You will also need to bring with you any medicines.

When you arrive

You'll speak with a nurse about what's going to happen, and they’ll ask some questions about your health and medical history, including whether you’re pregnant or could be pregnant.

Giving consent

A nurse or doctor will explain possible risks.

In rare cases, people may:

You'll be asked to sign a consent form. This is to confirm you understand the risks and agree to have the procedure as discussed.

It's important to remember these things are rare. If anything happens, the team will take care of you.

Type of anaesthetic used

There are 3 types of anaesthetic that can be used during an arthroscopy:

The anaesthetic you have usually depends on the type of arthroscopy, what joint is involved and your general state of health.

You should be told what anaesthetic is going to be used before the day of your arthroscopy.

The procedure

An arthroscopy usually takes 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the type you’re having.

The main steps of an arthroscopy are:

After the procedure

After the procedure you will go to a recovery room until you feel well enough to go home. This usually takes a few hours.

If your surgery takes place in the afternoon or evening, and you have a general anaesthetic, you may need to spend the night in hospital.

Getting home

You must not drive for at least 24 hours if you have a general anaesthetic. Someone will need to pick you up from hospital and take you home.

You should also not drive after having an arthroscopy involving your arms or legs, until you have recovered from the effects of surgery. This can take from around a week to several months. See Recovering from an arthroscopy for more information.

At home

The joint is likely to be painful and stiff. Painkillers like paracetamol can help.

If you had an arthroscopy in one of your legs, you may be given a compression stocking (or similar) to wear to improve blood flow and reduce swelling. Keeping the affected leg elevated when sitting should help.

Applying an ice pack for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours to the affected joint may also help with swelling. If you do not have an ice pack you can use a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel.

Keep any dressings as dry as possible by covering them with a plastic bag when you have a bath or shower. Hospital staff will let you know when you can remove the dressing.

Follow advice from the hospital team about what you should or should not do in the days after your arthroscopy, such as when it’s safe for you to drive again.

Read more information about Recovery after an arthroscopy.

Urgent advice: Contact 111, or the hospital where you had your arthroscopy, if:

You have any of these issues after your procedure:

  • a high temperature
  • severe or increasing joint pain
  • smelly liquid leaking from the cut – the liquid may be white, yellow or brown
  • severe swelling or redness in or around the joint which may get worse – the redness may be harder to spot on brown or black skin
  • numbness or tingling in or around the joint

You can also get help from 111 online.

Page last reviewed: 10 June 2022
Next review due: 10 June 2022