Lateral Release Surgery Complications

Updated February 21, 2017

Lateral release surgery helps correct alignment of the kneecap. This procedure is done when the kneecap does not glide well within the groove of the knee, causing severe pain for the individual. Several severe complications can occur as a result of this procedure, including bleeding within the knee, infection, scar tissue formation and damaged cartilage.

The Facts

The lateral retinaculum is a fibrous tissue on the outer portion of the kneecap, or patella. This tissue helps support the kneecap in connection to the femur bone below it. When this tissue fails to aid in the bending of the knee, surgery is sometimes needed. A doctor will look for two main problems before performing the procedure: patellar tilt and lateral rising patella. Patellar tilt is the angle of the kneecap in relation to the rest of your leg and is the most common cause of lateral release surgery. A lateral riding patella is a sign that a patella is moving toward the outside of the knee rather than staying directly in the natural groove of the femur. If either of these problems is present, surgery will be recommended.

The Procedure

Lateral release surgery begins with an arthroscopic procedure in which the doctor makes two or three small incisions to inspect the knee joint. After examining the meniscus, ligaments, joint surfaces and the retinaculum, the doctor will determine the best course of action. If the doctor decides that lateral release surgery is needed, she will cut the lateral retinaculum to relieve pressure and allow the kneecap to return to its normal alignment. Once this is completed, incisions will be closed with either stitches or staples, and an elastic pad will be placed on the knee to prevent the lateral retinaculum from returning to its previous position. If the procedure is not done properly, complications can occur.

Bleeding Within the Knee

Once the surgery is complete and the incisions have been closed, it is possible for bleeding within the knee to occur. This can lead to a variety of other problems, including injury to a blood vessel, blood clots in the leg and knee stiffness. A damaged blood vessel or blood clots in the leg can lead to other severe or life-threatening medical problems if not taken care of properly. It is important to periodically check your sutures to ensure that they have been closed properly and to prevent bleeding.

Infection and Scar Tissue Formation

As with any surgery, infection is possible at the site of the incisions if proper precautions are not taken. To minimise the risk of infection, patients are encouraged not to bend the knee past a 30-degree angle during the first week. If excess weight is put on the knee too soon after the surgery, chances of infection rise. In addition, excess scar tissue in the knee can hinder full mobility and cause pain for the individual. Scar tissue forms in the gaps between ligaments created by the surgery to provide stability for the knee once it is healed. If too much scar tissue forms, however, it prevents the knee from completely bending and can disrupt the healing process.

Damage to Cartilage

During the procedure, it is possible for the tissue in the knee to be damaged. Damage to the cartilage is characterised by a weakness in the knee that leads to instability when standing or walking. After surgery, patients often experience pain and instability, so damage to cartilage cannot be diagnosed until rehabilitation has been completed and the patient fully recovers.


Consult with your doctor to ensure that you are fully informed of the procedure and aware of the risks that come with it. If you experience any of the side effects mentioned above, contact your physician immediately. Physiotherapy is also necessary after this procedure, so make sure you understand the full recovery time before agreeing to surgery.

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