The quadriceps tendon attaches the quadricep muscles to the patella bone in the lower, front part of the thigh, just above the knee. These muscles, tendons and bones work together to help straighten the knee. A quadriceps tear is a serious injury that can cause loss of knee function. The quadriceps tendon may become inflamed and eventually tear from athletic activity that strains the tendons, such as running, bicycling and dancing. Jumping activities, such as playing basketball, may put an athlete at a higher risk of a quadriceps tear, as landing puts immense strain on the quadriceps tendon. Quadriceps tendon tears can also be caused by falls or direct force to the front of the knee. Although a quadriceps tendon tear may occur at any age, it is more common in middle-aged individuals who are physically active.
A quadriceps tendon tear may be considered partial or complete. A partial tear has not completely disrupted the tissue of the quadriceps tendon and it may be stretched, but still in one piece. A complete tear results in tissue that has split into two pieces and the muscle is no longer attached to the knee cap. Treatment for a quadriceps tendon tear may vary based on the type of tear that has occurred.
Symptoms of a Quadriceps Tendon Tear
When the quadriceps tendon tears, there is sometimes a tearing or popping sensation within the thigh. Additional symptoms of a quadriceps tear may include:
Pain just above the knee cap
Tenderness around the knee cap
Indentation just above the knee cap
In most cases, individuals are also unable to straighten the knee and have difficulty walking as the knee may buckle or give out.
Diagnosis of a Quadriceps Tendon Tear
A quadriceps tendon tear is diagnosed through a physical examination and the doctor may also test whether the individual can extend or straighten the knee. X-rays and MRI scans are performed to determine the severity of the tear and the exact location of the injury.
Treatment of a Quadriceps Tendon Tear
Treatment for a quadriceps tendon tear depends on the severity of the tear, the age of the patient and the activity level of his or her lifestyle. Partial tears may respond to immobilization through the use of a knee immobilizer or brace. Physical therapy can also help to restore strength and range of motion. Complete and more severe tears often require surgery to repair the torn tendon. Surgeons usually use very strong sutures to stitch the tendons back together and to help hold the tendon to the kneecap while the tendon heals. Physical therapy is also important after surgery to help the patient regain flexibility and full mobility of the knee.