Tendons are strong cords of fibrous tissue that attach muscles to bones. The quadriceps tendon works with the muscles in the front of your thigh to straighten your leg.
Quadriceps tendon tears can be either partial or complete. Small tears of the tendon can make it difficult to walk and participate in other daily activities. A large tear of the quadriceps tendon is a disabling injury. It usually requires surgery and physical therapy to regain full knee function.
Causes and risk factors
Quadriceps tendon tears are not common. They most often occur among middle-aged people who play running or jumping sports. A quadriceps tear often occurs when there is a heavy load on the leg with the foot planted and the knee partially bent. Think of an awkward landing from a jump while playing basketball. The force of the landing is too much for the tendon and it tears. Tears can also be caused by falls, direct force to the front of the knee, and lacerations (cuts).
When a quadriceps tendon tears, there is often a tearing or popping sensation. Pain and swelling typically follow, and you may not be able to straighten your knee. Additional symptoms include:
- An indentation at the top of your kneecap where the tendon tore
- Your kneecap may sag or droop because the tendon is torn
- Difficulty walking due to the knee buckling or giving way
Diagnosis and treatment
Your doctor will consider several things when planning your treatment, including:
- The type and size of your tear
- Your activity level
- Your age
Most small, partial tears respond well to nonsurgical treatment including immobilization and physical therapy.
Most people with complete tears will require surgery to repair the torn tendon. Surgical repair reattaches the torn tendon to the top of the kneecap. People who require surgery do better if the repair is performed soon after the injury. Early repair may prevent the tendon from scarring and tightening into a shortened position.