Patellar Tendon Tears

It’s most-common for younger athletes to suffer patellar tendon tears. This type of injury happens during sporting events and other physical activities. While it may be most common in athletes, a patellar tendon tear can happen to anybody.

If you’ve suffered a patellar tendon tear, you need the right Orthopedic Sports medicine surgeon in Atlanta for treatment. Dr. John Andrachuk offers extensive experience in treating patellar tendon tears and other sports injuries.

What is a Patellar Tendon Tear?

The patellar tendon is the connecting structure between the shinbone and the kneecap. It’s a ligament structure connecting the two bones (patella and tibia) and it’s often referred to as the patellar ligament. 

The tendon connects the quadriceps muscle to the shin bone. It’s a vital part of the extensor mechanism, and critical to normal functions, such as walking, climbing stairs, and athletic activities. 

When this ligament becomes torn, it’s known as a patellar tendon tear. Small tears might make it hard to walk and handle other daily activities. Larger tears can become a disabling injury and make it hard to even stand without help. Surgery is often needed when a larger patellar tendon tear occurs.

What are the Types of Patellar Tendon Tears?

There are two types of patellar tendon tears: complete patellar tendon tear and partial patellar tendon tear. Varying degrees of partial tears exist, as well.

Partial Patellar Tendon Tear

A partial tear is any tear to the patellar tendon not completely disrupting the soft tissue. The ligament is a bit like a stretched rope. If some of the fibers are frayed, but the tendon is still in one piece, it’s known as a partial patellar tendon tear.

Complete Patellar Tendon Tear

If you suffer from a complete patellar tendon tear, it means the entire ligament has become separated from the kneecap. When the patellar tendon becomes completely torn through, you won’t be able to straighten your knee. In some cases, a piece of the pone will break off with the kneecap. 

What Causes a Patellar Tendon Tear Injury?

Patellar tendon tears can be caused by many factors. Athletes often experience patellar tendon tears during athletic competition. However, this type of injury has many other causes including:

  • Sudden accidents or traumatic incidents
  • Chronic overuse
  • Direct impact to the front of the knee
  • Patellar tendinitis or tendon weakness
  • Weakened tendons from chronic disease

While jumping and falling incorrectly is often the cause of patellar tendon tears in athletes, these injuries can also happen due to disease weakening the tendons. Chronic renal failure, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, metabolic disease, and hyperbetalipoproteinemia may weaken the patellar tendon making it more susceptible to injury.

It’s also possible a patellar tendon tear could be caused by the overuse of steroids. Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids may cause tendon and muscle weakness leading to injury.

Common Symptoms of a Patellar Tendon Tear

If you’ve suffered a patellar tendon tear, especially a complete tear, you will likely experience quite a bit of pain. The pain will likely be directly under the kneecap and you will notice many other symptoms, such as:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • A soft spot or defect
  • Trouble walking or standing

If the injury happened during athletic activities, you might feel a snapping or popping sensation. Typically, after a complete tear, it’s very difficult to walk without help.

How are Patellar Tendon Tears Diagnosed

Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history when diagnosing a patellar tendon tear. They will ask about your symptoms and what caused the injury. 

It’s common for a doctor to ask you to extend your knee or straighten it during the diagnostic exam. This part of the exam can be rather painful, but it’s important to diagnose a patellar tendon tear.

Along with a physical exam, your doctor will likely use imaging tests, such as:

  • X-rays – When a patellar tendon tear occurs, the kneecap will likely move out of place. This can be diagnosed through a sideways X-ray view. If it’s a complete tear, an X-ray might be all that’s necessary to provide a diagnosis.
  • MRI – Providing better imaging of the soft tissues, it’s common for doctors to use MRI scans to diagnose patellar tendon injuries. An MRI can also be used to rule out other possible injuries.

An MRI is known as the most effective diagnostic tool for knee injuries, especially patellar tendon tears.

Patellar Tendon Tears Treatment

Treatment for a patellar tendon tear will be determined by the type of tear, your age, and your activity level. Both non-surgical and surgical options are available.

Partial patellar tendon tears can be treated with physical therapy and immobilization. Often, your doctor will recommend you wear an immobilizer or a brace to keep your knee straight while it heals. You will likely need to use crutches for three to six weeks. 

Physical therapy will also be used once the initial swelling and pain have subsided. Certain exercises can help to restore range of motion and build strength.

Complete patellar tendon tears and bad partial tears may require surgery for treatment. Surgical treatment will reattach the tendon to the kneecap. The sooner the repair can be performed, the better the patient will heal, in most circumstances.

Some outpatient procedures do exist for patellar tendon tears, but a hospital stay is likely. Most surgeons recommend staying in the hospital for at least one night after the operation. 

Patellar tendon tear surgery will include using sutures in the tendon and drilling holes in the kneecap. The sutures are tied at the top of the kneecap to reattach the tendon to the kneecap. It’s also possible for a surgeon to use small metal implants to anchor the sutures to the kneecap.

Patellar Tendon Tear Recovery Time

After patellar tendon tear surgery, you can expect long-term weakness. If you suffered a partial tear not requiring surgery, you might be recovered and ready to return to normal activities in 6 weeks. However, the recovery time depends on the injury and the patient.

Complete patellar tendon tear recover time can be as long as 6 months. In some cases, it could heal faster or even take longer to recover.

Schedule an Appointment Today!

Dr. Andrachuk provides extensive experience in treating both partial and complete patellar tendon tear injuries. If you’ve suffered a knee injury during athletic activity or you’re experiencing knee pain, it’s time to seek medical help. Dr. Andrachuk offers conservative treatments, along with the best astroscopic and minimally invasive techniques available to get you back on the field as soon as possible. Contact us today and schedule your in-person or telemedicine appointment!