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Tendon release is a surgical procedure that involves clipping part or all of a tendon in order to decrease tension in the muscle it controls. The procedure can theoretically be performed on any tendon in the body, but most operations are done on wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle tendons. Depending on the site of the affected muscle, tendon release can take anywhere from a few minutes to two hours to complete. Most patients experience immediate pain relief after the procedure and make full recoveries with a few weeks or months of physical therapy.
In most cases, doctors try more conservative treatment options for muscle problems before considering this procedure. Guided exercise, painkillers, rest, and ice are often enough to relieve stiff or spasmodic muscles in many people. Some conditions, however, do not respond to conservative efforts. Individuals who have congenital problems, such as club feet or complications of cerebral palsy, may need tendon release surgery in infancy. Major injuries to nerves or the spinal cord can also affect muscle movement and require surgery to improve symptoms.
Tendons that are close to the surface of the skin, including the Achilles tendon in the ankle, can usually be released very quickly with a simple incision. Structures in the hips, wrists, or shoulders usually require a more invasive procedure. A surgeon makes a cut in the skin and pulls away fat, muscle, and cartilage tissue to expose the tendon. Using a scalpel or forceps, he or she carefully snips along the length of the tendon to allow it to stretch. The lengthened tendon allows the muscle below or above to stretch and relax as well.
Tendon release may be performed under local or general anesthesia, depending on the site of the tight muscle. A patient is usually kept at the hospital or surgical center overnight following surgery so nurses can monitor recovery from the anesthetic. Surgical wounds are treated with antibiotics and dressed with bandages. A temporary cast or brace may be fitted to prevent excessive movement. A follow-up visit about two to three weeks after surgery is scheduled to make sure the muscle is getting better.
It may take several months before a person can engage in regular activity. Physical therapy sessions are important to help people gradually build strength and flexibility and learn how to prevent recurring injuries. Tendon release has a high success rate, and most people eventually regain full use of their muscles.