Cartilage Treatment Risks

Your surgeon may recommend cartilage treatment surgery if you have had damage to your joint surface which is causing pain, swelling, or locking in your knee. Most people who undergo cartilage treatment surgery do not have any complications however, any surgical procedure carries some risks. Most cartilage treatments have overlapping risks (described below) though there are some slight differences between procedures which you will need to discuss with your surgeon.Some of these risks are seriousso, it is important to consider this with your surgeon before making the decision to proceed.

It is important to remember that cartilage treatments are usually very successful at relieving symptoms of pain, locking and catching in your knee however, this effect may not persistpermanently. This is because in most cases, we cannot yet exactly replicate the pre-injury state of the joint surface. It is possible that even with successful surgery, there is still change to the joint surface in future and that more treatment or surgery is required.

You should also know that even with the best surgery and strict adherence to your recovery protocol, your joint surface may not heal. This is due to the poor blood supply in the cartilage layer which means the healing tissue cannot always get the nutrients that it requires to perfectly restore your joint surface.

The knee will be painful after the procedure but pain killers will be given to reduce this as much as possible.

Other common risks (affecting 2-5% of patients) include:

  • Swelling/Haemarthrosis
    This is a collection of fluid or blood in the knee joint. In most cases, the body will absorb the fluid itself. If the swelling becomes too large, the surgeon may feel an operation is necessary to drain the fluid
  • Numbness
    The skin around the knee may be temporarily or permanently numb due to damage of small nerves of the skin
  • Stiffness
    You may find your knee is less able to bend and straighten following your procedure. Often, this resolves with physiotherapy however, sometimes abnormal scar tissue leads to ongoing stiffness in your knee

Rare risks (affecting less than 1% of patients) include:

  • Infection
    The wound sites may become red, painful and hot. There may also be a discharge. These are signs of infection and can usually be treated by antibiotics. The infection may spread to the knee joint itself (requiring a washout) and removal of any graft or special device that has been used during your procedure. Infection may also spread to the blood (sepsis) requiring intravenous antibiotics
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
    A DVT is a blood clot, usually in the calf/ leg. They can cause swelling and pain. Very rarely may they travel to the lungs (a PE) and cause a serious medical emergency
  • Damage to the Structures Within or Around the Knee
    This is rare, but may cause further damage and symptoms. This may need further treatment including an operation
  • Abnormal Wound Healing
    The scars may become thick, red and painful (keloid scar). This is more common in in patients of certain races. There may also be delayed healing or wound oozing
  • Compartment Syndrome
    This is a build up of pressure within the lower leg and can cause nerve damage, blood vessel damage and muscle damage. If this occurs, an emergency operation will have to be performed to prevent death of tissue of the lower leg/ foot
  • Osteoarthritis
    This can be more common after knee injuries and operations