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Patellar Tendon Tear

The patellar tendon is a strong band of tissue that connects the kneecap (patella) to the shinbone (tibia). It helps the knee joint move by allowing the thigh muscles to straighten the leg. A patellar tendon tear, also called a rupture, is a complete tear of the tendon away from the kneecap and often takes a piece of bone with it.  Without this attachment, it is impossible to straighten the knee. Partial tears occur in the middle of the tendon.

A patellar tendon tear is serious injury usually affecting men in their 30s and 40s. However, patellar tendon ruptures have been reported to affect 7-8% of adolescent patients ages 12-15 who participate in sports and high energy recreational activities.

A patellar tendon tear is often the result of a chronically degenerated tendon subjected to an overuse that causes microtears in the tendon, especially in jumping and running sports. It is sometimes called Jumper’s knee. Some medical conditions, like diabetes or kidney disease, can lead to weakened tendons and can predispose the patient to tendon rupture.

A patellar tendon rupture may also be caused by a sudden, forceful contraction of the quadriceps muscles, as might occur when trying to jump or change direction quickly during a sporting activity. It can occur suddenly from a fall or direct blow to a bent knee, missing a step on the stairs or from a jumping sport. When the rupture presents six weeks after an injury it is called a chronic rupture.

A patellar tendon rupture is a serious injury that can cause severe pain and disability. Symptoms of a patellar tendon rupture include sudden severe pain in the knee, swelling, bruising, the inability to straighten the leg, walk or stand. A complete rupture may also result in a “pop” sound or sensation.

Dr. Patel will take a detailed history of your symptoms and conduct a physical exam testing for tenderness and swelling and range of motion and muscle strength. X-rays will be ordered to assess the bones, and imaging studies like an MRI will reveal the status of the soft tissues. When indicated to aid diagnosis, Dr. Patel may inject the knee with lidocaine. If the patient is unable to perform a straight leg raise after injection, this will confirm the diagnosis. But if the patient can perform a straight leg raise, the problem is something other than a patellar tendon tear.

High-grade partial tears or complete tears of the patellar tendon typically need surgery to repair and restore the “extensor” mechanism of the knee – the ability to straight the knee.

When you or a loved one is suffering with kneecap injury, it is important to get an opinion from an orthopaedic specialist like Dr. Ronak M. Patel. He is a double board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine physician trained at Northwestern University and received a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic. He specializes in the treatment of all knee injuries and degenerative conditions. Contact him to schedule a consultation to learn more about how he can help you return to the life you love and the activities that make life worth living. He serves teens and adults in Chicagoland and NW Indiana.

At a Glance

Ronak M. Patel M.D.

  • Double Board-Certified, Fellowship-Trained Orthopaedic Surgeon
  • Past Team Physician to the Cavaliers (NBA), Browns (NFL) and Guardians (MLB)
  • Published over 49 publications and 10 book chapters
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