Understanding chondroplasty of the knee

Your knee plays a significant role in your ability to move. It is the largest joint in the body, and any problem affecting the knee can have a significant impact upon your life.

Where your knee problem is caused by damage to the cartilage in the joint, you may be advised to undergo surgery to remove it. This is known as knee chondroplasty.

What is the cartilage in the knee?

Your knee contains two pads of cartilage (known as ‘meniscus’), one on each side of the knee. The medial meniscus lies on the inside of the knee while the lateral meniscus lies on the outside. Together, they are referred to as ‘menisci’ and they primarily act as shock-absorbers in your knee, helping to dissipate the force generated when you move.

In addition, the bones of your knee have a lining of cartilage at their ends, which helps the bones to move freely over each other. This is known as ‘articular cartilage’.

Damage to this cartilage can lead to pain in the knee joint, as the bones grate against each other due to the uneven surfaces. The aim of chondroplasty is to remove the damaged cartilage from the joint, restoring the smooth surfaces in the joint and reducing pain as a result.   

Knee pain is a common complaint and damage to the articular cartilage is one of only a number of possible causes. For this reason, a knee specialist (an orthopaedic surgeon) may request diagnostic tests to help confirm damage to articular cartilage. Tests requested may include X-rays, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They will also make a thorough examination of your knee and talk with you about your symptoms and the differences they are making to your life.

Chondroplasty is a surgical procedure to remove damaged articular cartilage from the knee joint. It is carried out as an arthroscopic procedure (a type of keyhole surgery), meaning it is not as invasive as traditional “open” knee surgery.

Chondroplasty is normally carried out under general anaesthetic, meaning you will not be conscious during the surgery. An anaesthetist will talk with you about the anaesthetic they will be using for the procedure, and if you have any queries at any time, they will be happy to help.

Once you have been given the general anaesthetic, the skin around your knee will be thoroughly cleaned using an antibacterial fluid. The surgeon will make a small incision in your knee and insert a thin metal tube (known as an arthroscope) through the cut into the knee joint. The arthroscope contains a light source and a camera or lens at one end, allowing the surgeon to see the inside of the joint clearly. Sterile saline solution will be flushed through your joint to help reduce any bleeding and allow better visibility of the menisci.

Using the arthroscope, the surgeon will carefully examine the damaged articular cartilage, as well as the entire knee joint. Small surgical instruments will be used to carefully smooth out the cartilage.

The surgeon will then remove the arthroscope from the knee joint and close any cuts made during the surgery using stitches or special surgical tape. Your knee will then be covered with a sterile dressing to ensure it remains free of infection.

Following your surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room, where out theatre staff will monitor you carefully while you wake up from the anaesthetic. Once you have fully woken up and the theatre recovery room staff are happy with your blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels, you will be taken back to your ward to rest.

Complications and Risks

Although it is known as keyhole surgery, it will still take time to fully recover from your knee chondroplasty. While you are recovering, it is important to take things slowly in order to gain maximum benefit from the surgery.

All surgical procedures carry risks and the potential for complications. For chondroplasty, these include:

  • Infection in the knee joint,
  • Damage to the nerves near the knee joint,
  • Formation of a blood clot (known as a ‘deep vein thrombosis’ or ‘DVT’).

The above risks are intended as guidelines only and are not exhaustive. We always recommend that you talk with your consultant about potential risks and complications before you decide to have any surgery.

The consultant-led orthopaedic Knee Clinic at St Joseph’s has vast experience in carrying out chondroplasty on the knee. Should you be experiencing pain or ‘sticking’ in the joint when you move your knee, please contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our knee specialists. They will assess the cause of your pain and determine the best treatment option available for you.

Should chondroplasty be advised, the expert team in our Knee Clinic will make sure you receive the best treatment and post-operative support possible.

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