A tear of the patella tendon, the tendon that attaches to the bottom of the kneecap and helps to straighten the knee.
The patella tendon is a large tendon that attaches to the bottom of the kneecap (patella) and the top of the shinbone (tibia); it works with the muscles and other tendons in the front of the thigh to straighten your leg. Tendon tears can either be a partial tear or a complete tear. A partial tear means that there are some fibers that are still connected to their points of origin. A complete tear, or rupture, of the patella tendon is a disabling injury where the tendon is split into two pieces. These injuries often require a very strong force to tear this large tendon. Some examples are direct falls to the front of the knee or landing with a very bent knee from a jump. There are also some disease states that can weaken the patella tendon leaving it at risk for tears such as tendinitis, diabetes, and chronic renal failure to name a few. Steroid use like chronic corticosteroids and anabolic steroid use have also been known to weaken tendons in the body. Whatever the cause for the tear, the symptoms are the same. Complete tears are accompanied with a tearing or popping sensation followed by pain, bruising and swelling to the front of the knee. An inability to straighten the knee is a hallmark symptom of this injury. Because the tendon is no longer anchored to the shinbone, your kneecap may migrate towards the thigh and you may feel a sizable indentation at the bottom of the kneecap where the tear occurred. A thorough physical exam is often all that is necessary to make this diagnosis, however your doctor may order an x-ray to observe the location of the patella or an MRI to evaluate the extent of the tear directly. Very small partial tears are good candidates for a nonsurgical treatment approach. This is accomplished by a period of immobilization to allow the tendon to heal followed by a period of physical therapy to restore strength and range of motion of the knee. If the partial tear is larger or the tendon is completely ruptured, surgery is necessary to reattach the torn tendon to the kneecap (See “Patella Tendon Repair” under the Treatments section for more information). This is done in either an ambulatory surgical center or a hospital setting. Recovery time for this type of injury can take 6 months or more for severe tendon injuries.
Every patient receives an in-depth consultation to devise a treatment plan that is right for their problem. Our specialists prefer non-operative and non-invasive treatments whenever possible, including physical therapy, medications, and/or injections. When we require surgery, we will then use minimally invasive surgical techniques to fix your problem, whether it is fixing a broken bone or repairing a tendon. Our goal is always to get you back to living your life normally as soon as possible.