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Patellar Tendon Ruptures


What is a patellar tendon tear?

The patellar tendon attaches the bottom of the patella (kneecap) to the top of the tibia (shin bone). The patella is also attached to the quadriceps muscles by the quadriceps tendon. Working together, the quadriceps muscles, quadriceps tendon and patellar tendon straighten the knee. Small tears of the tendon can make it difficult to walk and participate in other daily activities. A large tear of the patellar tendon is a disabling injury. It usually requires surgery and physical therapy to regain full knee function.


What causes a patellar tendon tear?  

  • Injury – A very strong force is required to tear the patellar tendon. Tears are commonly caused by a traumatic injury like a harsh landing from a jump or impact from a fall.
  • Tendon weakness – Tendon rupture can also occur if the individual already suffers from tendon weakness caused by patellar tendinitis, corticosteroid injections or medications, or even certain chronic diseases


What are the symptoms?  

  • Tearing or popping sensation
  • Pain, swelling, and bruising
  • Difficulty straightening your leg
  • An indentation at the bottom of your kneecap where the patellar tendon tore
  • Your kneecap may move up into the thigh because it is no longer anchored to your shinbone
  • Difficulty walking due to the knee buckling or giving way


How is a patellar tendon rupture diagnosed? 

The kneecap moves out of place when the patellar tendon tears, and this is often very obvious on a "side view" x-ray of the knee. Complete tears can often be identified with these x-rays alone.

Dr. Potts may also order an MRI to further assess the severity of your injury and rule out other concurrent injuries.


What is the treatment for patellar tendon tears?

Very small, partial tears respond well to non-surgical treatment and conservative measures with rest, bracing, protected weight bearing, and physical therapy. With complete ruptures or more severe tears, most patients require surgery to restore the full function of their knee. Surgical repair reattaches the torn tendon back to the kneecap. Those requiring surgery tend to do better if the repair is performed soon after the injury to prevent the tendon from scarring down and tightening into a shortened position.