A quadriceps tendon tear, while relatively rare, can be a disabling condition that requires therapy and possibly surgery. Many individuals who suffer from these injuries are middle-aged adults who participate in physical activities.
So, how do you sustain a quadriceps tendon tear? To better understand this injury, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of your upper leg.
The quadriceps are a group of muscles located at the front of your thigh. They include:
Tendons are strong cords of soft tissue that attach muscles to bones. All four quadriceps muscles attach to the knee cap (patella) via the quadriceps tendon.
At the top of the upper leg, the vastus medialis and lateralis attach to the back of the thigh bone (femur) at the linea aspera. The vastus intermedius attaches to the front surface of the femur. And, the rectus femoris attaches to a portion of the hip bone.
The bottom line: There’s a lot of complicated machinery that goes into making up your quadriceps muscles. On the flip side, this complex anatomy leaves very little room for something to go wrong.
All the quadriceps muscles work in conjunction to flex the knee joint. These muscles also stabilize and hold the knee bone in a straight line.
The rectus femoris is the only quad muscle that crosses the hip. As it result, it also helps to:
In addition, the quadriceps also work with other leg muscles to coordinate walking, running, cycling, squatting, and engaging in a variety of sports and physical activities.
A quadriceps tendon tear occurs at the tendon that attaches the quads to your knee cap.
In general, quadriceps tendon tears usually occur during sports or other physical activities. A heavy load placed on the leg while the knee is partially bent and the foot planted can apply excess strain on the tendon resulting in tears. Furthermore, direct contact, falls, and cuts to the upper leg can also lead to quadriceps tendon tears.
Moreover, quad tendon tears can be:
Those who are over forty and participate in activities like running, basketball, soccer, or other contact sports are most likely to suffer this type of injury. In addition, studies suggest that males may be up to eight times more likely to suffer a quad tendon tear than their female counterparts.
Also, those with inflammation of the quadriceps tendon—aka, tendinitis—may be at higher risk for sustaining this type of injury. Tendinitis, for example, weakens the quadriceps tendon.
Those with chronic health conditions that disrupt the blood supply of tendons may also be more prone to quadriceps tendon tears. Some conditions can that interrupt blood flow include:
In addition, drugs like steroids and the antibiotic fluoroquinolones are associated with these tears.
Do you think that you might have a quadriceps tendon tear? Check out the next section to review common symptoms and discover how doctors diagnose the condition.
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As you know, a quadriceps tendon tear is an injury to the tendon that attaches the quads to the kneecap. When this tendon is injured, you may hear a pop or experience a tearing sensation.
Immediately after the injury, you may have difficulty walking. In addition, straightening out the knee may be very painful. Swelling to the knee often occurs immediately (or shortly) after the injury.
Other quadriceps tendon tear symptoms include:
Some of these symptoms may indicate other conditions such as a patellar tendon rupture, patellar stress fracture, torn ACL, or femoral nerve injury. Therefore, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential to properly treating this condition.
A visit to your doctor can determine if you suffer from a quad tendon tear. An examination will include reviewing your complete medical history including previous knee or quadriceps injuries. Your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms. And, of course, you will discuss any events that led to these symptoms.
The physical examination includes tests that assess how well you can straighten your knee. In many cases, this involves raising your legs with your knees bent and/or straight. Doctors can usually determine any functional loss very quickly.
Imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs may be used to confirm your injury or rule out any other conditions. Ultrasounds may also be used to detect a tendon defect. Once you have received an accurate diagnosis, you may be referred to an orthopedic doctor or other specialist as part of the treatment plan.
To learn more about treatment for a ruptured quad tendon (knee), continue to the next section.
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Your treatment options will depend on a variety of factors. Obviously, the severity of your tendon tear plays a big role. Partial tears may respond well to conservative treatments. Complete tears, as you can probably guess, will require more extensive care.
Also, your doctor will consider your age, activity level, and surgery tolerance. All of these factors will contribute to your quad tendon repair protocol.
If you’ve suffered a partial quadriceps tendon tear, treatments may include:
Conservative treatments may be all you need for a partial tendon tear. If you suffer a complete tear of the quadriceps tendon, however, surgery may be necessary.
Complete tendon tears or large partial tears often require the intervention of an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon will look at the extent of your injuries as well as your current health and activity levels. These factors determine if surgery will be beneficial. The best outcomes for quad tendon surgery require early intervention. In most cases, successful surgeries occur no more than three days after an injury.
In a nutshell, the surgeon reattaches the torn tendon to the kneecap. In many cases, this can be performed on an outpatient basis. Furthermore, most individuals spend at least one night in the hospital to recover.
After receiving general or local anesthesia, the surgeon uses sutures to reattach the tendon. This may require drilling small holes in the kneecap to tie the sutures and secure the right level of tension in the tendon.
Suture anchors may also be used. This relatively new procedure doesn’t require drilling holes into the kneecap. However, the effectiveness of this operation is still under review.
If you undergo surgery, you may start some quadriceps exercises as early as two days after the procedure. Your therapy regimen often depends on the type of quad tear, your surgical repair, and any other underlying conditions. Torn quad recovery time may be as little as six weeks for full weight-bearing.
When can you resume physical activities? Recovery time—with appropriate therapy and physical training—may be between anywhere from 4 months to one year.
If you recently suffered an injury to your quad tendon, you should consult with an orthopedic doctor immediately. Early repair prevents the tendon from scarring and tightening into a shorter position.
NJ Spine & Orthopedic has an experienced team of doctors and specialists ready to accurately diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate your sports injury. We specialize in conservative treatments, minimally invasive procedures, and even complex surgeries to help you get back to the life you want to live.
Don’t put yourself at risk for long-term pain. Schedule a consultation today by calling (855) 586-2615.
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