Which is better for knee arthroscopy: local anesthesia or general?

We all know that general anesthesia comes with far more risks than local, but there are circumstances that call for general anesthesia over local for a knee arthroscopy.

It’s also understandable if the idea of “going completely under” is frightening.

You probably already know that the level of unconsciousness while under general anesthesia is deep enough that the patient cannot be aroused without drugs.

It’s so deep, in fact, that the patient can’t even breathe on their own; they must be intubated: A tube is placed down their throat and breathes for them.

Local vs. General for Knee Arthroscopy

“Local anesthesia is a reasonable consideration assuming the planned procedure is not expected to be extensive or to last longer than 20 to 30 minutes and does not require the use of a tourniquet,” explains Dr. Mark Galland, orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and physician at Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina.

“The tourniquet itself may cause pain that will not be adequately addressed by the use of a local anesthetic.”

Knee Arthroscopy

This very common procedure allows the doctor to view a knee joint despite making only a small incision. Arthroscopy allows the surgeon to diagnose the specific condition and then treat it.

Viewing is done via a little camera (arthroscope) that’s inserted into the joint.

It shows images on a video monitor that guide the surgeon in using thin, miniature surgical instruments – that allow for very small incisions.

The patient enjoys a much faster and less painful recovery than what would occur with invasive surgery to the knee, especially if it were done with general anesthesia.

Be sure to ask your surgeon adequate questions to make sure you understand the precise nature of your condition and why your surgeon–if this is the case–has opted for general anesthesia over local to perform your knee arthroscopy.

Dr. Galland has authored many book chapters and papers in sports medicine. His advice and consultation have been sought by world-class athletes in track and field and Major League Baseball.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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