Key Points About Lateral Release Surgery

  • The goal of lateral release surgery is to relieve symptoms you may experience from a partially dislocated kneecap.
  • Lateral release surgery is most appropriate for candidates who have tried nonsurgical therapy and have not experienced relief.
  • Lateral release surgery is a minimally invasive surgery that is performed via small incisions around the knee. Patients can go home after the procedure.
  • While you will be able to return to your activities within three months with mild discomfort, it will take a year to recover fully.


Lateral release surgery, also known as keyhole surgery, is a procedure performed to realign the kneecap (patella). Typically, the lateral release is performed as an arthroscopic procedure in an outpatient setting. 

The goal of lateral release surgery is to relieve pain associated with a partially dislocated kneecap.

Candidates for knee lateral release surgery 

Patients who experience pain and pressure from tightening in the lateral retinaculum tissue on the outside of the kneecap may be candidates for a lateral release surgery. Lateral release surgery on the knee is most successful on people who have tried nonsurgical therapies such as bracing, icing, medications, and modifying activity levels and extensive physical therapy without relief.

Risks associated with knee lateral release surgery

Lateral release surgery is a complicated procedure. Risks associated with lateral release surgery in the knee include:

  • Bleeding into the knee, which leads to pain.
  • Unstable kneecap which leads to medial subluxation where the kneecap is pulled to inside the knee.
  • No pain relief due to the procedure being performed on a less than ideal candidate.

Preparation for knee lateral release surgery

Before deciding to get lateral release surgery, your doctor will recommend you try nonsurgical therapies such as braces, crutches, knee braces, ice packs, and physical therapy.

You also should ensure your doctor has your full medical history and knows of any other medical condition you have. Also, let your doctor know what medications you are taking, including herbal medicines.

What to expect during knee lateral release surgery

Knee lateral release surgery is performed with a patient under general anesthesia, to that you will be asleep during the procedure.

Lateral release surgery of the knee is an arthroscopic surgery that is performed through three small incisions in the knee. Your doctor will cut through a tight group of tendons in the kneecap to allow the kneecap to move correctly into the proper groove, restoring normal alignment.

Your surgeon will release enough of the retinaculum to enable movement but is careful not to release too much. If this occurs, the knee can become unstable.

Your orthopedic surgeon will test the knee movement to ensure the kneecap is in the correct location before closing the wound with sutures or staples.

Duration of knee lateral release surgery recovery

Your orthopedic care team may place a pad around the outside of the knee to keep the patella in position. Some patients may also need a knee brace to prevent the knee from moving outwards.

While you will experience significant symptom relief and resume activities around three months after surgery, it may take as long as a year to recover fully.

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