Idaho Veterinary Hospital specializes in routine and advanced surgical procedures including TPLO (tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy) to address ligament tears and other orthopedic repairs, as well as soft tissue surgery.
One of the most common injuries to the knee of dogs is tearing of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL). This ligament is similar to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. There are actually two cruciate ligaments inside the knee: the cranial cruciate ligament and caudal cruciate ligament. They are called cruciate because they cross over each other inside the middle of the knee. For more information on these ligaments and how they can become damaged, see the handout “Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Dogs” under the Library Tab.
When the CCL is torn or injured, the shin bone (tibia) slides forward with respect to the thigh bone (femur), which is known as a positive drawer sign. Most dogs with this injury cannot walk normally and experience pain. The resulting instability damages the cartilage and surrounding bones and leads to osteoarthritis (OA).
When the cranial cruciate ligament is torn, surgical stabilization of the knee joint is often required, especially in larger or more active dogs. Surgery is generally recommended as quickly as possible to reduce permanent, irreversible joint damage and relieve pain.
Several surgical techniques are currently used to correct CCL rupture. Each procedure has unique advantages and potential drawbacks. Your veterinarian will guide you through the decision-making process and advise you on the best surgical option for your pet.
A major advancement in the treatment of CCL rupture has been the development of tibial plateau leveling osteotomy or TPLO. This surgery changes the angle and relationship of the femur and the tibia. The overall intent of the surgery is to reduce the amount that the tibia shifts forward during a stride. This is accomplished by making a semicircular cut through the top of the tibia, rotating the top of the tibia, and using a bone plate to allow the tibia to heal. This realignment of the surfaces within the stifle (knee) helps to provide stability during a stride and helps to reduce future joint inflammation and OA. By carefully adjusting the angle or slope of the top of the tibia, surgeons are able to replicate a more normal configuration of the knee joint and reduce mechanical stress.
To better understand the purpose of leveling the tibia, we often use the analogy of a wagon on a hill. Imagine a wagon tied to a post on the slope of a hill. As long as the rope holds, the wagon does not roll downhill. If we add excess weight (or downward force) to the wagon, the rope could break, and the wagon will roll down the hill. However, if the wagon is on level ground, it will not roll forward with added weight, even if the rope is broken.
In this example, the wagon is the femur, and it slides down slope of the top of the tibia when the CCL is ruptured. This instability leads to damage and destruction of the cartilage and bones of the knee joint. TPLO surgery levels the tibia to prevent the femur from sliding forward, thereby stabilizing the joint.