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What is Tendon Release?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon330121 — On Apr 14, 2013

I have cerebral palsy. I had a tendon release behind both knees when I was 12. I came out of it with severe nerve damage from the scars down. To this day, they cannot cut my toenails, rub my feet with a towel or put regular shoes on my feet. Even the slightest brush of cloth against my legs and feet is torture for me thirty years later. I didn't find out until I was an adult that the farthest I would have ever been able to walk was three blocks. They put me through that hell for nothing and my physio ended permanently within six months when I had to undergo three operations for scoliosis.

Then when I was 21, one of my hips dislocated for the third time and they took my whole right femur out. I am now in such constant pain from the latter surgery that not even morphine can make a dent. And I was dealing with the best surgeons in the business.

The news gets even worse. They put me on Gabapentin partially for the nerve damage. Now I get unpredictable pins and needles pain that can keep me up all night. I just passed another sleepless night. I've been on that drug for two miserable years and am now loath to go off it for fear of reliving my first moments of coming out of surgery. Imagine having been told by everyone around you that a surgery was going to make you better and you wake up from the gas screaming in agony from the casts on your legs, and you were in a common ward full of a dozen kids. I came on here and found my worst fears confirmed. I was messed up by one of the most famous hospitals on the planet.

I lost my apartment two years ago in a nervous breakdown and problems with the 24 hour attendant care. On the psych ward, rather than treat my illness and send me home, I was pressured to go to a nursing home to which had I had access to online, I would have found to be the worst of the worst of the for profit nursing homes. They abuse and neglect the "residents" here like crazy. I expect to be dead or insane well before my name comes up on the six year waiting list and I am only 42.

This is a dangerous, dangerous place to be if you get seriously sick. At other homes run by the same company, residents have died from neglect and not being sent out even on a doctor's order. I have MRSA, an antibiotic resistant bacteria that can kill many of the frail residents here and most of my staff don't even gown up like they should and I have tried to get them to. I used to be happy and optimistic before the nerve damage and this is how my life is going to end.

By anon281725 — On Jul 25, 2012

My daughter has just had this tendon lengthening muscle release in her adductors and hamstrings and it is week three and she is not yet able to sit up. The pain is really bad and she is so weak and not well. It is big surgery for a nine year old.

If she is weaker, I won't be happy. We were hoping she will be able to walk without her legs crossing over, but if she is too weak to walk, it would have been for nothing.

By irontoenail — On Oct 16, 2011

@pleonasm - It's easy enough to prevent that kind of shortening. If you just find a step somewhere, then balance on it on the balls of your feet, then lower yourself down so your heels approach the floor, you'll stretch out your achilles. You'll also strengthen your calves, which is another good muscle group to pay attention to if you want to wear heels.

Be very gentle at first though and go slowly if you wear heels a lot so you don't end up tearing anything.

By pleonasm — On Oct 15, 2011

I think one of the biggest modern causes of tendon pain is actually wearing high heels all the time. I know that occasionally older women need to have achilles tendon release surgery in order to make up for the tightening of their tendons.

When you wear high heels it pushes the tendon up and eventually it gets shorter and shorter. If you don't regularly stretch it out properly, it will start to stay like that.

Of course, the woman can just continue to wear heels forever, but it can be very uncomfortable whenever they want to use flat shoes.

I think a better solution is to try and stretch out the tendon rather than surgery though.

By Mor — On Oct 14, 2011

I once tutored a lovely girl who had cerebral palsy and she had a tendon release operation soon after I started teaching her.

We did work on the computer and it was very difficult for her to sit comfortably and still reach the keyboard. She was a lovely student to teach and very enthusiastic and it was awful to realize that she was suffering from tendon pain the whole time I was sitting there teaching her.

I guess she mostly got used to living with it. But, after the operation she was a lot happier. She told me the pain was almost gone.

I hope she's still doing OK and just as optimistic and happy as she was when I knew her.

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