It’s been a long game. Tennis shoes squeak on the glossy floor as your teammate passes you the ball. You pivot to the hoop and take that 2-point shot. As you jump, you hear a ‘pop’ in your knee and feel a sharp pain. As you land, your left knee buckles. You have just experienced a patellar tendon tear.
What Is the Patellar Tendon?
There are two types of rope-like connective tissues in your body called ligaments and tendons. Ligaments connect bone to bone. You’ve probably heard of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which crisscrosses around your knee and connects the femur (thigh bone) to your tibia (shinbone). Like most ligaments, the ACL also helps stabilize the patella (kneecap). Tendons connect muscle to bone. The patellar tendon is a fibrous connective cord connecting the knee to the shin bone. The patellar tendon is near the ACL, but only connects the knee and lower leg and is located at the front of your leg.
What Are Patellar Tendon Injuries?
Injuries are common in both ligaments and tendons. Tendon and muscle injuries are called “strains.” Strains occur when the tendon or muscle is stretched, inflamed, or torn. A partial or complete tear injury occurs when some or all of the cords in the tendon are pulled apart. Most of us experience a strain in our lives from rolling our ankles or overuse of the wrist from an activity like shoveling or lifting heavy objects repeatedly.
A patellar tendon tear is sometime’s called a “jumper’s knee,” even though it is most common in runners. Other activities that can affect the patellar tendon include basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and other high-impact sports that include a lot of jumping. However, you don’t have to play sports to injure your patellar tendon. Blunt force trauma to the area from an accident or fall, and age and overuse of the tendon can also lead to acute and chronic damage to the patellar tendon. Taking corticosteroids for a chronic condition like tendonitis can weaken the tendon and give it a better chance of rupture without an outside influence. A patellar tendon tear can range from mild to severe, and they are all treatable by doctors and physical therapists.
Do I Know I Have Patellar Tendon Tear?
A severe Patellar Tendon tear may be accompanied by the sound of a ‘pop’ or tearing noises. You will likely not be able to support your weight. In a complete tear, you might not be able to straighten out your leg fully because the patellar tendon is no longer attached to both your knee and lower leg.
Symptoms of a patellar tendon tear include:
- A ripping, tearing, or popping sound
- The inability to support your weight or having the knee buckle when walking
- The inability to fully straighten the affected leg
- An indentation or sunken area beneath your knee in the front
- Pain or tenderness
- Kneecap is positioned higher on your leg
Is There Treatment for Patella Tendon Tears?
Patella tendon strains, tears, and ruptures are treatable. The outlook for full recovery is very optimistic for most patients who follow a treatment plan. The first step to treating a patellar tendon tear is to see a doctor. They will take a medical history and examine the area. The doctor may choose to have imaging done of the area by an X-ray or by MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the extent of the damage.
For mild strain injuries, many doctors recommend R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevation) and medications for pain and inflammation.
A partial patellar tendon tear is typically treated with immobilization for up to six weeks, knee braces, and physical therapy. A complete tear or rupture, or a partial tear that doesn’t heal well, will require surgery. The surgeon will stitch together the torn ends of each tendon. If the tendon has separated entirely from the patella, the surgeon will drill new holes in the kneecap and reattach the tendon at these new anchor points. Immobilization and physical therapy will still be needed after surgery.
Patellar Tendon Tear Recovery Time
Recovery time for a patellar tendon tear differs for each patient. It depends on the injury severity and the patient’s physical condition. A mild tear can take up to six months to heal, while a full tendon rupture, with surgery, can take up to a year. Even after six weeks of immobilization, you will likely not be returning to your prior physical activity for at least a couple of months. It is essential that you let your patellar tendon heal so that you can get back to doing the activities you love. Even though recovery time may seem long, the good news is that a patellar tendon tear can be healed.
How Can I Prevent A Patellar Tendon Injury?
There is no sure-fire way to prevent a tendon injury, but there are some practices you can adopt to lessen the chance of developing patellar tendonitis, a chronic injury to the patellar tendon. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best tips for healthy patellar tendons are:
See A Doctor
If you experience any pain, don’t continue the activity. See a doctor immediately if you have any patellar tendon tear symptoms.
Strengthen Your Muscles
Strong thigh muscles will help prevent patellar tendonitis and inflammation of the tendon from chronic conditions and overuse. Staying healthy and active helps all your muscles stay strong and helps prevent injuries and chronic diseases.
Improve Your Techniques
Take care of your body by using equipment and playing sports properly. Make sure you receive adequate instructions when using new exercise equipment or starting a new sport.
Remember, patella tendon injuries can heal if you follow the treatment prescribed by great orthopedic doctors and surgeons. At MOSH, we believe everybody deserves top-quality care. Know that wherever you receive your initial treatment, the MOSH orthopedic surgeons and orthopedic rehabilitation team are here to get you back to doing the activities you love. When you schedule an appointment with MOSH, you can be confident you are getting the best care for your patella tendon tears.