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What is Chondromalacia Surgery?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chondromalacia surgery is a surgical treatment for a condition called chondromalacia patella or “runner's knee.” It is used as a treatment option when more conservative treatments for this condition fail and a surgeon believes a good outcome could be achieved with surgery. Historically, surgery was often strongly recommended, but research has suggested that it should only be used in cases where it is clearly indicated and patients are not responding to conservative treatment options. If surgery is recommended, the patient may want to ask about other treatment options and why surgery is the best choice.

In chondromalacia patella, the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap is damaged, and becomes inflamed, leading to pain in the knee. This condition is most commonly seen in athletes, especially athletes involved in high impact sports like skiing and running. In the early stages, the condition can often be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation, giving the cartilage a chance to heal. If the condition is advanced or a runner has experienced repeat injuries, more aggressive treatment options like chondromalacia surgery may need to be pursued.

This surgery is usually performed arthroscopically, through a small incision made near the knee to insert instruments. The surgeon can remove damaged and heavily inflamed cartilage to reduce pain and swelling. If the kneecap is out of alignment and this is causing the wear and tear on the cartilage, the surgeon can realign the joint during the chondromalacia surgery. This surgery is performed on patients while they are under general anesthesia to minimize pain and discomfort.

Recovery from chondromalacia surgery can take weeks. In the first few days, the knee is usually painful and very swollen. The patient is advised to keep weight off it and may be offered analgesia for the pain associated with the surgical site. The site is also checked for any signs of infection. Once the knee is recovering, gentle physical therapy can be used to strengthen the joint and help the patient regain strength and flexibility.

Once a patient has had this surgery, it is important to avoid straining the knee again. Athletes often experience complications later in life as a result of the hard paces they put their bodies through while they are competing. Repeat surgeries to treat sports injuries can have varying degrees of success and may be associated with more risks, along with increased recovery times for the patient. Working to prevent injuries in the first place and limit the chances of re-injury after treatment is important for athletes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon936701 — On Mar 02, 2014

I had grade III chrondromalacia. The surgery pain was not terrible but after three weeks I can tell my knee is not right. At four months, I hurt around my knee cap and down my leg to my foot.

I limp and it kills my back and then when I sit over 10 minutes, the muscles in my back get tight and I have to take pain pills that I hate. I would rather have knee replacement and be well in six months or less. The doctor told me that will happen since I'm red on red. I think most people have better luck than I have. Gods bless and hope the best for everyone doing this.

By anon925720 — On Jan 13, 2014

I'm almost 3 months post surgery. I feel about the same as before hurting around knee cap still popping. I just had the scraping of cartilage. It was grade III, so now it's bone on bone. It aches all the way down to my foot, and sometimes I get swelling. I'm still doing physical therapy, but if that does not help, I will get a second doctor to look at it.

By anon346493 — On Aug 28, 2013

I had chondromalacia surgery two weeks ago. I'm still not sure if I made the right decision as I felt more conservative measures should have been taken first. My orthopedic surgeon recommended surgery first, before any other less invasive options. I thought that was odd. Maybe my cartilage damage was more severe than others?

I did not have a lateral release, only cartilage removal. I started walking without crutches today and it's only been two weeks, However, this probably isn't the best idea. I need to take it easy. I'm hoping my knee pain, the crunching and popping noises subside after I'm recovered. Now I wait and see!

I would recommend other alternatives before jumping into surgery. I wasn't in the greatest shape and would have have probably benefited from phys. therapy and overall strengthening. There are so many factors though, age, degree of damage, overall health, ability to take time off from work. It's your body, I think it's best to do as much research as possible first, maybe even get a second opinion?

By burcinc — On Jul 06, 2012

@alisha-- I also read many horror stories about the lateral release procedure before I had my surgery. I was really apprehensive but it really was the only option for me. Before the surgery, I went to physical therapy and did chondromalacia exercises for about six months without any improvement.

@SarahGen-- Have you been to physical therapy? If you haven't, you definitely want to try that before you decide on surgery.

By discographer — On Jul 06, 2012

@SarahGen-- Yes, I had mine a month ago and I am doing very well! I'm still going to chondromalacia therapy and walking with crutches, but I won't be needing them by next week I'm sure.

May I ask, which type of chondromalacia surgery will you be having? Will you have a lateral release procedure or removal of cartilage?

Both of these are labeled as "chondromalacia surgery" but the recovery time and success rate of these procedures are different. I had a lateral release procedure which is realignment of the kneecap and it actually has a less success rate than cartilage removal. The procedure itself is easy, but it is reported that many people continue to have pain and complications after the realignment.

By SarahGen — On Jul 05, 2012
My doctor has diagnosed my right knee with chondromalacia. He wants me to have surgery because despite resting, I'm still in a lot of pain.

I elevated my leg, rested and used ice compression for weeks when the pain first started. This definitely helped with the minor swelling and inflammation of my knee. But the pain still continues and is worse anytime I move around.

I don't know if surgery is really necessary but I don't think I can manage my life with this constant pain for very long. I've been taking too much time off from work and I want my knee to heal as soon as possible.

Has anyone had surgery for chondromalacia recently? Are you happy with the results? Do you recommend me to have it?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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