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What Is a Lateral Release?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2014
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A lateral release is a surgical procedure to disengage tight tissues on the outside of the knee. It can be an effective way of returning the kneecap to its natural position in the joint’s groove. A lateral release is usually performed via arthroscopic, or keyhole, surgery. Some potential side effects and complications of the procedure include pain, swelling, bleeding in the joint, and a buildup of scar tissue. A full recovery usually takes anywhere up to six months.

In healthy knees, the patella sits in the middle of the patellofemoral groove. If the kneecap is misaligned, the extra friction as it slides over the joint can cause pain and injury. In some people, this misalignment is caused by tight tissues on the outer, or lateral, side of the knee. This tissue is called the lateral retinaculum. The goal of a lateral release is to free these tight tissues and allow the kneecap to return to its natural position.

If a tight lateral retinaculum is the true cause of knee pain, a lateral release can be an effective procedure. When the surgery was first invented, it was often inadvertently recommended to patients who didn’t need it. This has resulted in some people believing that the procedure isn’t effective at reducing knee pain. Today, however, surgeons are much more careful about to whom they recommend the surgery.

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A lateral release usually starts with the surgeon looking inside the joint to assess whether the tissue needs to be operated on. This is performed via arthroscopic surgery and requires several small incisions. If it is decided that the lateral retinaculum needs to be operated on, the tissue will be cut to reduce the tension.

Some of the potential side effects of a lateral release include pain immediately after the operation, swelling, and bleeding inside the joint. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicine are often prescribed to reduce discomfort. There is also the chance of scar tissue forming after the operation, which can require more surgery in some cases.

Recovery from a lateral release varies between patients. Patints who are in good physical condition before the operation, and who follow the recommended rehabilitation exercises regularly, often recover quicker. Most patients who have knee surgery start to return to everyday activities within a few weeks. It may be anywhere up to six months before it is safe to return to athletic activity, however. Crutches are often required for several days, although some patients need them for up to two weeks.

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