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Physical Therapy for Arthroscopic Knee Surgery – Information, Exercises, and More

Arthroscopic knee surgery is the most common type of knee surgery, with nearly 2 million performed in the U.S. each year.

The good news is — it can fix a number of knee ailments. Maybe you’ve had a meniscus tear that has kept you sidelined from your favorite activities. Arthroscopic surgery is a great option for repairing it.

Still, knee arthroscopy is major surgery. And surgery means you’ll need to allow yourself ample time to recover.

If you’ve just had arthroscopic knee surgery or are considering it to address a lingering knee injury, this guide is a great resource for recovery. 

You’ll learn how physical therapy will assist in your rehabilitation and get you back in action.

What is Arthroscopic Knee Surgery?

Knee arthroscopy is a surgical procedure that allows doctors to view and operate on the knee joint without making a large incision.

During arthroscopic knee surgery, your surgeon inserts a small camera into your knee joint. That camera helps guide the surgeon as he addresses the knee problems and makes repairs.

Because the camera (also called the arthroscope) and surgical tools are so small, your surgeon can operate making only very small incisions.

These smaller incisions result in:

  • Less pain
  • Less joint stiffness
  • Shortened recovery time
  • Lower risk of infection

 Reasons for Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Arthroscopic knee surgery is among the most common surgical procedures performed by an orthopedist. A variety of surgical procedures can be performed arthroscopically.

Arthroscopic surgery can diagnose and treat knee injuries, including:

  • ACL injury
  • Meniscal tears
  • Patella (kneecap) injury
  • Fractures
  • Tendon tears

Arthroscopic Knee Injury Symptoms

The location and severity of a knee injury may vary, depending on the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms that sometimes accompany knee pain include:

  • Swelling and stiffness
  • Redness and warmth to the touch
  • Weakness or instability
  • Popping or crunching noises
  • Inability to fully straighten the knee

Arthroscopic Knee Injury Treatment

Treatments for knee injuries will vary, depending upon what exactly is causing your pain. 


A knee brace should be specific for your condition and should help to manage and distribute forces around your knee. After an injury, a brace can protect your knee and the surrounding structures as healing takes place.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often successful in healing knee injuries in lieu of surgery.

Consistent physical therapy sessions designed to strengthen the muscles around your knee will increase stability. 

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or different types of strengthening exercises based on the specific condition that is causing your pain.

Athletes may need additional physical therapy exercises to correct movement patterns affecting the knees specific to their sport of athletic activity. Physical therapy exercises to improve flexibility and balance also are important.


In some cases, your doctor may suggest injecting medications or other substances directly into your joint. Examples include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Platelet-rich plasma
  • Placental tissue matrix


If bracing, physical therapy or injections are unsuccessful in treating a knee injury, surgery may be required. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can include:

  • Arthroscopic knee surgery
  • Partial knee replacement surgery
  • Total knee replacement

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Recovery

Due to the smaller incisions, recovering from arthroscopy is usually quicker than recovering from open surgery. (Open surgery typically requires an incision of 8-12 inches to fully visualize the knee and its components.)

General recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery includes:

  • Icing to reduce swelling and pain
  • Keeping the leg elevated for several days after surgery
  • Changing knee dressing regularly
  • Using crutches to keep weight off of the knee

Recovery times can vary. You may be able to return to light activity with physical therapy in 1–3 weeks and resume most other physical activities with the assistance of physical therapy in 6–8 weeks.

Physical Therapy After Arthroscopic Knee Surgery – Will PT Help?

Is physical therapy necessary after arthroscopic knee surgery? 

In a word: yes.

Physical therapy to restore strength and mobility following arthroscopic knee surgery is essential to recovery.

The length of rehabilitation will vary depending on what specific procedure is performed during the knee arthroscopy. 

Best Post-Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Exercises

Rehabilitation exercises will adjust based on your time-frame post-surgery. 

Rehabilitation Exercises in the First Week Post-Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

While light movement is important in the first week post-surgery, it’s also important not to overdo it. The goals during this period are to:

  • Control pain and swelling
  • Maintain motion in the knee
  • Activate hamstring and quadriceps muscles

Common rehabilitation exercises in the first week post-arthroscopic surgery include:

  • Heel slides
  • Ankle pumps
  • Straight leg raises
  • Walking

Rehabilitation Exercises in Weeks 2-6 Post- Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Recovery goals during the first several weeks (2-6) following surgery include:

  • Restore range of motion
  • Improve strength, balance, and flexibility
  • Control during functional exercises

Common exercises during this period include:

  • Step up/down
  • Squats
  • Partial lunges
  • Walking
  • Stationary bike

If you experience pain or swelling during post-surgery exercises, you should stop the activity.

After that, ensure that you:

  • Rest
  • Ice the knee
  • Compress the knee with a brace or bandage
  • Elevate the knee

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Recovery After Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

The physical therapists at In Motion O.C. are no strangers to treating patients following arthroscopic knee surgery. They see patients recovering from knee surgery every single day.

The team at In Motion O.C. will tailor a specific recovery plan for your specific injury and surgery. 

There’s a reason Yelp ranks In Motion O.C. is the #1 Physical Therapist office in the entire country. We’ll have you back on your feet in no time. 

*This information about physical therapy for arthroscopic knee surgery was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.