A tear of the quadricep tendon, the large tendon that attaches the four quadricep muscles in the thigh to the top of the kneecap.
The quadricep tendon is the large tendon that attaches the four quadricep muscles in the thigh to the top of the kneecap (patella). Quadricep tendon tears are less common than patella tendon tears, but when they do occur they are seen most often in middle-aged adults who participate in physical activity like running or jumping sports. Tendon tears are classified as either partial or complete tears. A partial tear means that there are some fibers still connected to their points of origin. A complete tear, or rupture, of the quadricep tendon is a disabling injury where the tendon is split into two pieces. These injuries are often caused by an awkward landing from a jump where a heavy load is placed on the leg with the foot planted and the knee partially bent. There are also some disease states that can weaken the patella tendon leaving it at risk for tears. Examples include 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 generally the same. Complete tears are accompanied by a tearing or popping sensation followed by pain, bruising and swelling to the knee. An inability to straighten the knee is a hallmark symptom of this injury. Because the tendon is no longer attached to the quadricep muscles, your kneecap may migrate towards the thigh and you may feel a sizable indentation at the top 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 top of the kneecap (See “Quadricep 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 approximately 4 months and up to 1 year for more severe 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.