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.