A patellar tendon tear is a serious injury typically sustained by athletes and active individuals. Because the patellar tendon plays an important role in straightening the knee, proper diagnosis and treatment of the injury are of the utmost importance. If you’ve injured your patellar tendon and think it might be torn, here’s everything you need to know:
The patellar tendon attaches the patella to the shinbone. The quadriceps tendon attaches the patella to the quadriceps muscles. The patellar tendon is the extension of the quadriceps tendon as it travels across the knee joint. When the tendons and muscles flex, the knee straightens.
Illustration 1- The tendons and muscles responsible for straightening the knee
As shown in Illustration 1, the patellar tendon is centrally located and thus a tear decreases function, performance, and the ability to bear weight.
A partial or complete tear can occur due to any of the following reasons:
- Running and jumping. Bending the knee and forcefully planting the foot, like when running and jumping, can overload the tendon and cause it to tear.
- A direct blow to the patella can cause the bone to move or displace. A resulting fracture and/or tendon tear is possible.
- The tendon becomes weak with age and/or overuse. A tendon that’s weaker than the muscles it works with can easily tear.
Illustration 2- The different types of patellar tendon tears
In many cases, weakness can also be attributed to an underlying medical condition like arthritis or a disease that limits blood supply (i.e. renal failure, diabetes, metabolic disease).
The initial symptom presents as a popping sensation that’s felt and heard by the injured individual. Immediately after, the following symptoms occur:
- – Pain
- – Swelling
- – Bruising
- – Tenderness
- – Inability to straightening the knee
- – Inability to bear weight on the knee
Management of these symptoms and the tear should only be done by an Orthopedic or Sports Medicine Specialist. Treatment plans vary based on the severity and exact location of the tear.
Partial tears are treated using non-surgical measures. The two key treatments are:
- A knee immobilizer limits or prohibits the knee from bending. With time, a partially torn tendon’s fibers will reattach to one another, restoring function and strength.
- Physical therapy. Exercises aimed at strengthening the patella tendon help patients recover quickly.
The healing process for a partial tear can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 5-6 months and is most often related to the severity of the tear.
A completely torn tendon requires surgery, but is usually performed arthroscopically and on an outpatient basis. During the procedure, an orthopedic surgeon re-attaches the tendon using small sutures and special surgical knots to provide strength to the ligament. X-rays are taken to ensure the anatomical position of the repaired tendon and patella matches that of the non-surgically repaired ones.
Physical therapy following surgery is an important part of the recovery process. It begins two weeks after and may continue in some fashion for a few months.
Contacting an Orthopedic Specialist
Delaying treatment of a patellar tendon tear is never a good idea. If you’ve injured your knee and think you might have a patellar tendon injury or tear, please contact one of our 5 Fairfield County offices. One of our Orthopedic or Sports Medicine Specialists will properly diagnosis and treat your injury. When in the right hands, a full recovery is entirely possible.