The Role of Surgery for a CCL Sprain or Rupture

In this article, we’ll be covering the surgical options for a sprained or ruptured cranial cruciate ligament in the knee (also known as the CCL – similar to the ACL in people).

Need more information about the CCL? Check out our overview article here and read about non-surgical treatment options here.

The role of surgery in CCL ruptures

If your dog has a complete CCL rupture, your veterinarian will recommend surgically stabilizing the stifle (knee) joint. The goal is to stabilize the joint and prevent the abnormal motion that eventually causes arthritis and meniscal injury.

It’s important to note that surgery does not prevent arthritis in the stifle joint, but we believe it can slow the progression of arthritis.

Surgery is also generally recommended for partial tears of the CCL (Grade 1-2 sprain). With partial tears, the ligament is not expected to heal and surgery can typically return a dog to an active lifestyle faster than non-surgical management.

Will my dog be able to return to normal activities?

Most dogs return to their prior level of activity approximately 4 months after CCL surgery, and it can take a year or more before achieving adequate results without surgery.

If the meniscus is torn, arthritis will progress more rapidly and managing your dog’s condition and pain without surgery will be challenging.

There are several different surgical procedures that are broadly categorized into

  • Osteotomy (surgical procedures to cut into the bone such as TPLO, TTA, and CBLO)
  • Extra-capsular procedures (Lateral suture/ MRIT, Tight Rope). Studies so far support the TPLO procedure as the most likely to restore normal limb function. Read more about TPLO surgery on TPLOinfo 

While surgery is typically the fastest way of returning dogs to an active lifestyle, it may not be the best option for every dog.

Non-surgical management may be recommended in the following scenarios:

  • Coexisting medical conditions such as severe anemia, severe neurological conditions, kidney or liver failure, or terminal cancer
  • Dogs and cats weighing less than 20 lbs that are not highly active
  • Geriatric and sedentary pets
  • Keep in mind that there are no long-term studies showing that non-surgical management of CCL ruptures can guarantee surgery can be avoided down the road, whereas there are many studies that document the progression of arthritis in an unstable stifle joint.